More Pacific salmon showing up in western Arctic waters

Roughly 2,000 of the fish caught by the Arctic salmon program so far in 2019

Salmon are in the Canadian Arctic and are increasing in number, says DFO biologist Karen Dunmall, who showed this slide during a presentation at the ArcticNet science conference last December in Ottawa. Even more were caught in 2019, says a recent research update from the Pacific salmon program. (Photo by Jane George)

By Jane George

CAMBRIDGE BAY—A few Pacific salmon caught as far east as Cambridge Bay, in addition to the recent catch of a salmon shark near Kugluktuk, are some of the latest signs that the waters in the western Arctic have changed with the warming climate.

“The opportunity of access is greater than it was before,” said Karen Dunmall, an aquatic biologist with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, about the growing presence of Pacific salmon caught in western Nunavut waters.

With less sea ice and new leads in the sea ice, Pacific salmon are able to follow their favourite foods, which range from tiny plankton to jellyfish, shrimp and smaller fish, Dunmall said.

Dunmall and other marine biologists with the Arctic salmon program now estimate that so far in 2019 roughly 2,000 salmon samples have been provided to their research program.

This slide prepared by DFO biologist Karen Dunmall shows the varieties of Pacific salmon likely to turn up in western Nunavut. (File photo)

This almost triples the number of salmon from any other year on record during the 19 years of monitoring salmon with harvesters, said a recent update on the program.

As well, the number of places where the fish are found seem to be increasing.

Salmon are arriving three weeks earlier and are being “harvested daily” across the Northwest Territories and into western Nunavut, as far east as Cambridge Bay, the update said.

Pacific salmon may possibly reach communities even further east into Nunavut, Dunmall said, as the fish continue to scout out freshwater places to spawn.

If they don’t find fresh water with the conditions they need for spawning, the salmon may lay eggs, but those eggs probably wouldn’t be at the proper temperature to survive.

Pacific salmon always die after spawning, Dunmall said.

To date, the only kind of salmon that spawns in the western Arctic is the chum salmon, although sockeye were caught around Cambridge Bay in 2017.

About 20 salmon have been sent in so far this year from around Kugluktuk.

And likely more samples will come in from the Cambridge Bay area, she said.

Dunmall said she’s hoping to receive more salmon samples this year through the hunters and trappers organizations before the ice closes in, although salmon have sometimes been caught through the ice in November in the Mackenzie Delta region, she added.

Dunmall has prepared a “guide to identifying salmon and char in the Arctic” in English and Inuktitut, with lots of coloured illustrations, so that hunters and fishers can recognize salmon if one comes up in a net.

The salmon research program also aims to learn more about how the presence of salmon may affect native fish species, such as Arctic char, Dunmall said.

The samples of salmon can help them see what the fish have been eating and whether it is a similar or different diet from that of Arctic char.

The growing presence of salmon in western Nunavut could help explain the recent catch of a salmon shark near Kugluktuk.

The Arctic salmon project is also interested in what is happening with Atlantic salmon, and Dunmall plans to visit communities to discuss that, starting with Resolute Bay in November.

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(7) Comments:

  1. Posted by Kangirsumiuq on

    Someone caught one here in Kangirsuk, Quebec recently. Maybe the pacific salmon is invading the world.

    • Posted by CLIMATE CHANGE on

      Got wrong GPS inform , took a wrong turn

  2. Posted by Concerned on

    Is this bad or good to have?

    • Posted by BC Kid on

      Sockeye is delicious… not sure if this is a net good though.

    • Posted by The Old Trapper on

      It’s a net bad as they will eat the same food as Arctic char and may displace them from certain habitats. It also indicates the rapidly changing climate and this may not bode well for the char.
      As to the actual fishing, having caught both Sockeye and Arctic char the Sockeye is much tougher to land. Just about every Sockeye that I’ve had on a line has leaped out of the water at least once and more often multiple times. They are a very fun fish to try to catch.

  3. Posted by Gibson Kudlak on

    The alarming thing is Salmon are now being caught in our Arctis Char spawning lakes …and i have noticed when salmon are being caught in the area around Ulukhaktok ..the Char numbers being caught are alot fewer..maybe that salmon are a more agressive fish and char go to different ares

  4. Posted by Putuguk on

    Arctic char like cold water, on average around 1-2 degrees Celsius colder than sea run trout, and probably colder than salmon. These fish spend most of their time in the top 3 meters of the ocean. These surface waters in the Kitikmeot are noticeably warmer than before, and certainly much more free of ice. The temperature of the water makes a very big difference to what can live in it, including the food that these fish eat.

    The char have already had to change their diet from mainly eating under ice shrimp to eating more small fish to adapt to this change. That is why we more often catch white or pale fleshed char. The most likely reason that there are less char now is because of the change in water temperature, and lack of under ice feeding areas.

    The surface water in the Pacific is getting too warm for Salmon, this is why they are coming. This was widely reported in the news this summer. Good gracious Salmon are not like whales – they do not need leads in the ice to swim here, especially when it is almost completely ice free along the Alaska coast now. I do not agree with a theory that salmon are being aggressive or eating the food of char and this is why they are increasing here. The environment has changed to favour one over the other.

    The Char in southern Kitikmeot slowly over time are going somewhere, probably to the north end of Victoria Island. This is a more important research question than looking at what these various fish eat. This is another fine example of how research is not very well aligned with the needs of the people.

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