Wild Fish Conservancy seeks endangered species listing of Alaska Chinook salmon

A photo of a Chinook salmon in Alaska.

The Wild Fish Conservancy has petitioned NOAA Fisheries to list Alaska king salmon under the Endangered Species Act.

The organization claims the petition is a response to “the severe decline and poor condition of Chinook populations” in Alaska.

“For decades, scientists have been sounding the alarm that Alaska’s Chinook are in dire trouble,” Wild Fish Conservancy Executive Director Emma Helverson said. “Despite existing management plans and years of efforts by the state of Alaska, Chinook salmon continue to decline in abundance, size, diversity, and spatial structure throughout the state. Through this action, we are asking the federal government to undertake a formal status review and implement protections warranted under the Endangered Species Act, including designating critical habitat protections, to ensure the survival of these iconic fish.”

Wild Fish Conservancy argued in its petition that Chinook salmon populations in Alaska have dropped significantly in recent years due to mixed-stock commercial and sport fishing, bycatch from industrial trawlers, climate change, logging and mining operations, and competition from hatchery-raised fish.

“Most people are unaware that there are Chinook populations in Alaska in far worse condition than [those] in other parts of the Pacific Northwest that already receive protection under the Endangered Species Act due to their severe condition,” Wild Fish Conservancy Biologist Conrad Gowell said. “Ironically, certifiers and the seafood industry are leading concerned consumers to believe Chinook from Alaska are sustainable, when in fact they are disappearing before our very eyes. No one wants to be eating the last wild Chinook from any river.”

The group is seeking federal protections for the salmon species from the Canadian border north to the Aleutian Islands. Wild Fish Conservancy first announced its intent to seek Endangered Species Act protections for salmon habitat in May 2023.

SalmonState an organization that advocates for salmon fishing in Alaska blasted the petition in a statement.

"With this petition, the Wild Fish Conservancy is doubling down on its attempts to shut down fishing in Alaska without consulting with or speaking to the people they're sledgehammering,” the organization said. “This petition is an extreme attempt to reallocate wild salmon that, once again, fails to consider or address the actual threats to Chinook. Alaskans and others concerned about wild salmon need to be working together to address threats from habitat degradation, to climate change, to hundreds of thousands of Bering Sea salmon bycaught and killed in Seattle-based trawl nets. Instead, the Wild Fish Conservancy is continuing to attack some of the people who care about wild salmon the most salmon fishermen and putting all of Alaska in a defensive position that will ultimately make problems worse instead of better."

The move to seek Endangered Species Act protection follows the Wild Fish Conservancy's legal battle with NOAA Fisheries and the Alaskan state government over the state’s Chinook salmon trolling fishery. The group claims that the commercial harvest is starving killer whales by depleting their prey and has asked courts to shut it down. Only the intervention of a federal appeals court allowed the 2023 summer season to take place.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock/Vladimir Potapeknko


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