Pacific Salmon in the Arctic: Harbingers of Change

Pacific Salmon in the Arctic: Harbingers of Change

Karen M. Dunmall, James D. Reist, Eddy C. Carmack, John A. Babaluk, Mads Peter Heide-Jørgensen, and Margaret F. Docker

Pacific Salmon in the Arctic: Harbingers of ChangeThis is part of Responses of Arctic Marine Ecosystems to Climate Change
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Abstract: Pacific salmon appear to be expanding their range into Arctic ecosystems and may be acting as effective sentinels of climate change. Salmon harvests voluntarily reported through the Pacific Salmon Collection Program (PSCP) suggest recent increases in both the abundance and distribution of Pacific salmon in the Arctic over the past decade. In the Canadian western Arctic, chum salmon have been harvested annually since 1997 and more abundant harvests appear to have increased in frequency. Pink salmon harvest has increased from the sporadic catch of individual fish prior to 2003 to 41 pink salmon reported in 2004, 18 reported in 2008, three reported in 2011, and eight reported in 2012 (i.e., predominantly in even-numbered years). Recent reports also expand the known distribution of this species upstream in the Mackenzie River, eastward in the Beaufort Sea and one putative pink salmon was recorded off the east coast of Greenland. Since 2003, one kokanee, one coho, seven Chinook, and ten sockeye salmon have also been reported in the Mackenzie River watershed. Multiple fish identified by local subsistence harvesters as “unusual” were captured near Arctic Bay, Nunavut, in 2011 and 2012. Although abundance and distribution data obtained from voluntary harvest reports need to be interpreted with caution, Pacific salmon may be following thermally suitable habitat northward and benefiting from increased productivity in the Arctic. Reduced sea ice extent and longer durations of open water in the Arctic may also facilitate expanded marine migrations of juvenile and adult salmon. Efforts to document the harvest of Pacific salmon will continue. Pacific salmon may be demonstrating new marine pathways that facilitate the expansion of other similarly opportunistic species and, as such, may be harbingers highlighting major arctic changes.

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