In 2013 and 2014 we are seeing record Salmon runs, it seems possible that iron fertilization has played a part in this success.
In 2011, Scientific American ran an article asking what is killing off the Fraser River Sockeye Salmon ? A sockeye salmon run with a historical average of eight million fish worth over $1 billion. Since the early 1990s the numbers of Fraser sockeye have steadily dwindled, reaching a particularly troublesome nadir in 2009 when more than 11 million sockeye were forecast to return and only 1.4 million showed up.
The large number of missing Fraser River sockeye in 2009 prompted a Canadian federal judicial inquiry into the matter, the Cohen Commission. And just to underscore how little scientists understood of the fish, the sockeye run in 2010 was a once-in-a-century bonanza, with 34 million fish flooding the river. “From a historic low to a historic high almost—that creates a lot of uncertainty for management but it also raises questions on why it’s swinging so much,” says U.B.C.’s Farrell. The USGS’s Winton points out that the sockeye run of 2010 was an anomaly, in the face of a steady and worrisome decline in Fraser sockeye over the years.
The 70 million sockeye estimate
The DFO follows fry down rivers, for example, the Chilko counting fence, passing Mission and a seine fishery in the Strait of Georgia, with acoustic arrays in Queen Charlotte Sound as well as Juan de Fuca.
On the way back, test gillnetting is typically done in Port Renfrew as well as Johnstone St. Fish are counted crossing the Mission fence, and samples from all fisheries are sent for real-time DNA testing twice per week, with announcements on run timing, composition and fishing opportunities for commercial, sport and first nations coming every few days as summer progresses
Linking Iron dust triggering Phytoplankton Blooms
The effect of a widely distributed phytoplankton bloom triggered by volcanic ash from Alaska (Hamme et al., 2010. Geophys. Res. Lett. 37) on juvenile Fraser River sockeye is discussed in terms of the timing of ocean migration and trophic structure of the Gulf of Alaska. Our hypothesis is that the occurrence of a massive diatom bloom in the Gulf greatly enhanced energy ascendancy in the ocean at a time of year when adolescent sockeye migrated from the coast in 2008. We contend this increase in food availability was an important factor for the survival and growth of juvenile sockeye which led to one of the strongest sockeye returns on record in 2010 of 34 million, compared with perhaps the weakest return on record of 1.7 million the previous year.
“There are three volcanic events in the last 100 years, and we had record sockeye salmon runs in those three volcanic dust events,” Russ George says. “That’s pretty good data.”
Russ George Did a Thorough and Scientific Study
Russ George and his team didn’t choose the simplest form of iron and dump it in the ocean. We did a carefully thought through, planned process that asked, “What forms of iron does the ocean use today and historically? How might we determine what’s the right form or composition or method of preparation or method of distribution of the forms of iron that we know are effective?” So we had an experimental matrix that we believe will answer that and we have the data now.
So what did you [Russ George and team] observe at sea?
Life appeared. The nightly migration of zooplankton from the thermocline [a layer of water in the ocean that marks the transition from warmer surface waters to colder deep waters] to the surface, we saw that. Copepods, salps, all the little fish. We have thousands and thousands of biological samples now going under microscopes around the world to be identified and quantified.
Instruments were used and tens of thousands of water samples were taken
We had instrumentation of every sort. Does Woods Hole [Oceanographic Institution] have two Slocum gliders? They may have one. The Canadian Institute for Ocean Science provided us with two gliders. We talked to [the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] as the Haida Salmon Restoration Corp. and said our intention is to go out to the eddies, identify an eddy and there try to understand how it could be restored and replenished. They say they didn’t know what we were doing.
How long before you share the data or report some results?
We have 10,000 water samples to be analyzed for 20 different characteristics. The first few hundred samples we sent to a commercial lab to give us a glimpse to make a determination of the ultimate cost. We sent them three weeks ago and no peep out of them yet. It takes a long time and a lot of money.
Restoring plankton to handle extra CO2
The photosynthetic potential of plankton in the ocean, if restored to 50 years ago, is more than sufficient to manage a large part of the anthropogenic CO2 problem.
Powered by a record pink salmon harvest of 219 million fish, this year’s harvest ranks as the second most valuable on record. Although there is no conclusive proof at this time that the HSRC Iron Fertilization project influenced this improvement in the salmon fishery, the article does describe the importance of this record pink salmon harvest.
Village that depends on Salmon fishing and had 70% unemployment spent money to save itself
In July 2012, HSRC proceeded with its experiment and fertilized a 5,000 square kilometre slice of the Pacific Ocean 200 miles west of the British Columbia coast.
The only permit granted to the organization was from the small town of Masset in Haida Gwaii off the coast of Northern British Columbia. HSRC was criticized by scientists and environmentalists and dragged through the proverbial mud by media for defying convention and operating without regard for international regulations set down by the UN. Even the UN weighed in on the issue.
McNamee admits, in retrospect, that it might not have been the best way to proceed, but says it was necessary to operate the way they did.
“We had a very limited budget and you know, there are two things,” says McNamee. “One, the village of Masset went through a plebiscite vote on the project and went and issued … resolutions to enable the project and they also issued us permits. That’s a real and valid way of doing things. However, as you suggest, it didn’t stop the press from going all nuts on us and everything. The other thing is there really is no process by which to get a permit (through the United Nations). It doesn’t really exist.
“If we had gone that route, we’d have used up most of our budget trying to figure out how to get a permit,” he continues. “We never would have got it done at all.”
For the better part of 2013, McNamee has been dealing with the fallout by speaking about the HSRC fertilization project at everything from international conferences such as Oceans 13 in San Diego as well as local community meetings in small towns such as Squamish, BC attempting to explain why they did what they did and why more experiments of this nature are needed in the future.
Critics suggest his experiment could have resulted in any number of harmful or potentially devastating consequences, such as produce toxic algal blooms or increase ocean acidification, but, according to McNamee, there is no evidence of any of the proposed consequences that were bandied about in the media.
Although there is no way to prove that this particular iron fertilization project helped raise the pink salmon numbers, it isn’t hurting McNamee’s case.
“I’ll go on record as saying that coincidence does not equal causality,” McNamee says. “I don’t believe in any way, shape or form that we definitely contributed to that salmon run. The question I have for salmon experts is this: ‘What changed in the ocean in 2012, the year prior, that had the potential to contribute to this massive return?’ The answer is I don’t know, but certainly our project may have contributed.”
In McNamee’s ideal scenario, an experiment such as his would provide vital research data on how our oceans can aid in climate change solutions. In addition, sequestering carbon in the seas would provide a revenue source for further projects. And, if the rebound in the salmon runs is indeed connected to the iron sulfate dumping, it could help local communities by promoting healthy fisheries.
We should try to figure out more about the record salmon runs and more iron fertilization tests should be part of the process
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
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