link to AFSC home page
Mobile users can use the Site Map to access the principal pages

link to AFSC home page link to NMFS home page link to NOAA home page

AFSC Historical Corner:  Salmon Research

Early Pioneers
Research and Mgmt.
Species Research
  - Salmon
  - Other Fish
  - Fur Seals 1,2,3,4
  - Whales / Whaling
  - Marine Mammals
  - Red King Crab
  - Invertebrates
Federal Hatcheries
Fisheries Management
Environmental and Ecosystem Monitoring
humpback salmon
Humpback salmon.
U.S. Fish Commission image, 1899.
"The history of the Alaska salmon industry...[prior to 1927] has been one of consistently increasing exploitation without regard to its effect on existing salmon supplies. In every district, as salmon stocks dwindled under this régime, the intensity of fishing effort was redoubled, and the attempt to maintain unimpaired, or to increase if possible, the size of the commercial pack. The necessity of making provision for future runs was ignored. No attention was given to the number of spawning fish that succeeded in escaping the nets. No one concerned himself with the size of the spawning reserves or their adequacy to maintain the runs. The congressional regulations in effect were hopelessly inadequate and the Bureau of Fisheries was without power to act.

Such a system could have only one result – the eventual depletion of the salmon supplies and the final extinction of the industry. This result was clearly foreshadowed in the years succeeding the close of the Great War...To meet this emergency, Congress in 1924 enacted a law for the protection of the fisheries of Alaska...of preventing furthur depletion of the salmon runs and of restoring them as nearly as possible to their former condition of abundance."

From:  Gilbert, C. H., and W. H. Rich. 1927. Investigations Concerning the Red-Salmon Runs to the Karluk River, Alaska. U.S. Bureau Fish., doc. 1021, 69 p.  (.pdf, 1.67 MB)

See also:  "Early (Federal) Salmon Hatcheries in Alaska",  and  "Alaska Canneries".

Event items

  • Fish tagging/marking experiments, 1920s-1950s

    In the early 1920s, Charles Henry Gilbert and Willlis H. Rich began extensive tagging salmon in the Alaska Peninsula. In 1923, roughly 10,000 numbered aluminum tags were attached to red salmon with reliably reported recaptures during the commercial fishing season. Tongs were used to attach the 3-inch long bent tags to the upper lobe of the tail at its base (see photo).  From:  Gilbert, C. H., and W. H. Rich. 1925. Second Experiment in Tagging Salmon in the Alaska Peninsula Fisheries Reservation, Summer of 1923 (doc. 991), p. 27-75 + figs. In Bulletin of the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries, Vol. XLII, 1926. Wash. G.P.O. 385 p.  (.pdf, 4.3 MB).

    In the spring of 1930, the first known attempt to mark pink salmon fry as they migrate from the streams was done at the Duckabush River hatchery – 36,000 fry were marked. The process involved using finger nail clippers to remove the dorsal and adipose fins, widely separated on the body. Both fins were removed because mature salmon often lose one of them from natural causes. Despite the loss of fins, the mortality of the fry was apparently unaffected.

    In 1932 a sizable herring tagging program had begun conducted by Dr. George A. Rounsefell, Edwin Dahlgren, and Samuel Hutchinson in southeastern Alaska using the Bureau's motor launch Heron. Some 5,000 herring were tagged and released using new metal "belly" tags, made of pure nickel, that could be recovered by a magnetic detection system on the conveyer belts at processing plants. Three years later, Dahlgren refined the tags and developed electronic and magnetic systems for recovering the tags as the fish pass through the reduction plant.

    By the mid-1950s, the common type of tag had evolved to to the "Petersen-disk", consisting of two plastic disks, about one-half inches in diameter, attached on each side of the salmon by a 2-inch pin inserted through the fleshy part of the back below the dorsal fin. A "tagging box", built to waist-height and used on the water, had a padded cradle to hold each fish while being tagged and a foot-lever-operated door that opened to release the fish into the water.

  • Gravel incubators for enhancing pink salmon returns, 1975

    The return of 11,137 adult pink salmon to the Auke Creek hatchery weir as of September 9 reinforces our confidence in the effectiveness of gravel incubators. This is the largest escapement of pink salmon ever recorded at Auke Creek, which formerly had about 2,500 spawners annually. A total of 1,347,000 fry (1,079,000 unfed hatchery fry and 268,000 creek fry) were released in the spring of 1974; the return of 0.83% should increase to about 1% as hundreds of pink salmon can be seen in Auke Bay.

    The return of marked fry strengthens the argument for at least two genetic stocks of pink salmon that spawn in Auke Creek; 79,743 hatchery fry, marked with fin clips, were released between February 27 and March 19, 1974, as they emerged from gravel incubators. A similar release of 79,909 fry, marked with a different fin clip, took place April 10-22. The former originated from the first mode of a bimodal escapement of spawners in 1973 and the latter from the second mode of spawners. Early spawners entered the weir before August 20 and late spawners after August 20. As of September 9, 137 pink salmon with the early type of mark and 663 with the late type of mark had entered the weir.
    (From Northwest Fisheries Center Monthly Report, Sept. 1975).

  • Genetic diversity of chum salmon studied for Southeast Alaska streams, 1988

    Staff of the Auke Bay Laboratory collected chum salmon (Oncorhynchus keta) from 32 southern Southeast Alaska streams in 1986, 1987, and 1988 for genetic analysis. The objective of the analysis is to determine if sufficient genetic divergence exists among fish from streams in southern Southeast Alaska near the U.S.-Canada boundary to be useful for stock separation in multistock fisheries. A subsample of fish from each of the 32 populations has been examined using protein electrophoretic methods. These data were analyzed to test for stream-specific differences or regional differences useful for stock separation. Electrophoretic data were obtained for 26 loci and 3 isoloci. Of these, seven loci and one isolocus were nonomorphic for all populations examined.

    Preliminary examination of the population subsamples indicates that genetic differentiation in chum salmon has a geographical basis and that, at least in southern Southeast Alaska, populations within a region are relatively similar. Separation between regions was significant. Comparisons of genetic data from Alaska with data reported by Canada indicate that populations from the Queen Charlotte Islands are distinct from populations from Prince of Wales Island. These results are sufficiently encouraging to warrant 1) analysis of the remaining tissues and 2) continued development of a genetic baseline for chum salmon which uses all the variable loci so far identified and includes stocks from northern British Columbia.
    (From:  Northwest and Alaska Fisheries Quarterly Report, Oct.-Dec. 1988).

Additional reading

  • Bean, T. H. 1891. Report on the Salmon and Salmon Rivers of Alaska, with Notes on the Conditions, Methods, and Needs of the Salmon Fisheries, p. 165-208 + plates (drawings, photos, & maps). In Bulletin of the United States Fish Commission, Vol. IX, for 1889. Wash. G.P.O. 504 p.  (.pdf, 141.5 MB  note large file size).
  • Moser, J. F. 1899. The Salmon and Salmon Fisheries of Alaska; Report of the Operations of the United States Fish Commission Steamer Albatross for the Year Ending June 30, 1898, p. 1-178. In Bulletin of the United States Fish Commission, Vol. XVIII, for 1898. Wash. G.P.O. (.pdf, 206 MB  note large file size).
  • Moser, J. F. 1902. Alaska Salmon Investigations in 1900 and 1901, p. 173-398 + plate & charts. In Bulletin of the United States Fish Commission, Vol. XXI, for 1901. Wash. G.P.O.  (.pdf, 75.3 MB).
  • Cobb, J. N. 1911. The Salmon Fisheries of the Pacific Coast (doc. 751). Wash. G.P.O. 180 p.  (.pdf, 7.92 MB).
  • Cobb, J. N. 1921. Pacific Salmon Fisheries (doc. 902). Wash. G.P.O. 268 p. + figs.  (.pdf, 19.1 MB).
  • Jones, L. E. 1915. Salmon Industry. In Report of Alaska Investigations in 1914. Wash. G.P.O., 155 p.  (.pdf, 17.45 MB).
  • Gard, R., and R. L. Bottorff. 2014. A History of Sockeye Salmon Research, Karluk River System, Alaska, 1880-2010. NOAA Tech. Memo. NMFS-F/SPO-125. 413 p.  (.pdf, 65 MB or by sections).
  • Roppel, P. 2004. The Steamer Albatross and Early Pacific Salmon, Oncorhynchus spp., Research in Alaska. Mar. Fish. Rev. 66(3):21-31.  (.pdf, 3.8 MB)
  • Nelson, P. R., and W. T. Edmundson. 1955. Limnological Effects of Fertilizing Bare Lake, Alaska (bulletin 102), p. 415-136. In Fishery Bulletin of the Fish and Wildlife Service, Vol. 56. G.P.O. Wash. 650 p. (.pdf, 1.67).
  • Kerns, O. E., Jr. 1962. Abundance and Age of Kvichak River Red Salmon Smolts (bulletin 189), p. 301-320. In Fishery Bulletin of the Fish and Wildlife Service, Vol. 61. G.P.O. Wash. 499 p.  (.pdf, 1.53 MB).
  • Rounsefell, G. A. 1958. Factors Causing Decline in Sockeye Salmon of Karluk River, Alaska. FWS Fish. Bull. 130(58) Wash. G.P.O. p. 83-169. (.pdf, 5.2 MB).

            | Home | Site Map | Contact Us | FOIA | Privacy | Disclaimer | | Accessibility | Print |           doc logo