Student Feature: 'Could Climate Change be Affecting our Salmon?'

Aug 10, 2021

In recent years, Bristol Bay's sockeye runs have been enormous, but salmon runs in other areas have dwindled. In this op-ed, Dillingham 11th grader Katie Shears examined how climate change may impact salmon -- and what that could mean for Bristol Bay.

 

Sockeye in a creek near Lake Aleknagik. August 2019.
Credit Izzy Ross/KDLG

 

Rising water temperatures as a result of the climate crisis could be salmons’ last goodbye. A Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office report on salmon populations held a cruel prediction: more than half of all salmon species are either threatened or endangered, and a quarter of them are in crisis today. 

Salmon are vital to Bristol Bay; many people depend on salmon to make their living and support themselves and their families. The importance of salmon in our communities is vital, and preservation is key. Many things can contribute to the decline of salmon numbers, most of which are correlated to climate change. 

Glaciers are melting at a rapid rate due to warming temperatures. Because of the melting glaciers, the timing of the cold glacier water emptying into the streams disturbs the natural cycle of salmon. Overall, the temperature of the rivers and streams where our salmon live is predicted to rise significantly in the coming years.

This rise directly affects the salmon cycle -- specifically, spawning -- which is a critical period in the cycle because, in it, the next generation of salmon is produced. When waters get warmer, salmon will need more oxygen because warm water molecules move faster than colder waters, therefore allowing more oxygen to escape from the water. A journey from the ocean back home is hard enough, but it makes this journey seems impossible with additional oxygen stress. Disturbance in the life cycle of our salmon can lead to increased mortality, which contributes to the fatality of a vital aspect of our precious culture.

The impact on salmon populations is just one example of how climate change is distorting fish populations around the world. Salmon populations in the Pacific Northwest are growing smaller and smaller; this will continue until people find a solution. Efforts to restore salmon are being explored; all across Washington state, they are trying to restore watersheds and vegetation and banks that supply shade to the waters. Washington is removing obstacles in hopes that salmon can make the tough journey home. 

Salmon are everything to Alaska. They always have been and always will be. But fishers in many parts of the state are struggling. For example, the Chignik disaster in 2018 caused a loss throughout their village. Salmon just weren't coming back, the closest salmon were miles away. The villages of Chignik depended on salmon, and they experienced another extremely low return last year. And while, in recent years, Bristol Bay’s salmon runs have returned in record numbers, our fish could always be next. 

We as people are the source of climate change. Therefore, we should be held responsible for creating the solution to it. Salmon are dying, not yet here in Bristol Bay, but the probability is increasing with each day. Dillingham is a beautiful place, and I wouldn't want to see the parishes that Chignik faced happen here in our home. Let us find the solution to save our salmon before it's too late. 

This piece was written for an English class at Dillingham High School. The students chose to write either a personal essay, a poem, or an opinion piece for the radio and web. The views expressed here are entirely the writer's, and do not necessarily reflect the views of KDLG.

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