The Alaska-based program has applications for Pacific salmon all along the West Coast, providing insights into the fluctuating fortunes of salmon runs and their management.
The grant boosts research into climate and other factors affecting salmon in the Northeast Pacific and determining such things as how much habitat -- parts of streams or entire watersheds -- is needed to sustain salmon.
Puzzles include Alaska's Kvichak River, the world's most important salmon-producing river. It has had runs of more than 50 million sockeye salmon in the past, which is more valuable than all the salmon in the lower 48 combined back when those stocks were pristine. Kvichak stocks, however, have declined for a decade, failing even to replace themselves in spite of an almost complete halt to harvesting, says Ray Hilborn, UW professor of aquatic and fishery sciences.
"The Kvichak sounds a lot like Columbia River or Puget Sound stocks," he says.
Still, 20 miles away from the Kvichak are similar lakes and rivers with record production.
"Our research is directed toward understanding why these runs see such different trends, by looking broadly at different systems subject to the same climate factors and constructing ecosystem conditions going back hundreds of years," Hilborn says. Hilborn is co-leader of the Alaska Salmon Program with Thomas P. Quinn and Daniel Schindler, faculty with the UW's School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences.
Another high research priority is exploring harvest strategies that provide better economic benefit. Alaska fishermen have been hurt by competition from farmed fish so that much of the fleet is no longer economically viable, Hilborn says. Last year only 1,200