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Chinook Salmon Invade South America
Sarah Kuck, 17 Jun 08

salmon-map.jpgTrying to manipulate nature to get what we want often has unintended consequences. One of the most recent examples of this has been the chinook salmon’s colonization of Chile and Argentina.

People introduced chinook salmon to southern South America for aquaculture about 25 years ago, but now the species has started self-sustaining and rapidly expanding in the wild. According to ScienceNews:

“A broad survey of records and stream visits finds chinook reproducing on their own in at least 10 Andean watersheds that empty into the Pacific plus more along the coast, and three Atlantic watersheds," Cristián Correa of McGill University in Montreal and Mart Gross of the University of Toronto report in the June Biological Invasions.

While their North American counterparts are dwindling (to say the least -- U.S. government fisheries managers closed both commercial and recreational chinook fisheries in California and much of Oregon for 2008), the South American chinook are flourishing. This is due to conducive environmental conditions like cool rivers and rich feeding grounds, but it also helps that they don't have to deal with dams, overfishing and hatchery-stock genetic mixing like their Northern relatives, Jack A. Stanford told ScienceNews. Stanford directs the University of Montana’s Flathead Lake Biological Station and also works with the Wild Salmon Center in Portland, Oregon.

The news of chinook colonizing South America "absolutely, unequivocally proves how stupid we’ve been in managing our fish," Stanford said.

To the previously chinook-salmon free ecosystem, this is an invasion. As the population of the salmon species continues to increase, Correa told ScienceNews he worries that they might disrupt both freshwater and marine ecosystems by outcompeting other fish species and by bringing up “massive seasonal pulses of nutrients” into a system that usually runs on a “sparse budget.”

But as the article mentions, the invasion could carry an unintended benefit for scientists studying salmon to find out more about their mysterious lives:

In North America, salmon populations have adapted to the particular watershed where the fish hatch and eventually return to breed. With the ongoing invasion in South America, “we can study evolution in action,” Correa says.

The article also makes evident how robust and resilient salmon populations truly are. If we would only manage our own fish more wisely and institute appropriate recovery plans, as Standford hints at, we might be astonished by how quickly our stocks could rebound.

The salmon need a plan that will not only help them recover from their current challenges, but one that will also help them face problems they are soon to encounter regarding climate change.

These plans exist and are readily available, Patty Glick, a senior policy specialist with the National Wildlife Federation, told ScienceDaily. Glick is a co-author of a A Great Wave Rising, a report that ScienceDaily calls 'the first to offer federal managers a set of strategic global warming solutions necessary for the recovery of endangered Columbia and Snake river salmon and steelhead and the communities and industries that depend on them.'

“Salmon are exceptionally resilient and flexible, and they will need all that resilience to survive global warming. We offer a scientifically robust strategy that has so far been missing in federal actions,” Glick said. "Solutions are not only available; they can and must be implemented now.”

As we can see in the case of the South American chinook, if we give these remarkably strong fish half a chance their numbers are bound recover. The plans exist, it's all just a matter of implementation.

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The more populations of people we try to sustain on this planet, the worse all the other species seem to do. We are the only creature that makes trash, waste, and toxic chemicals. We are the only creature that needs so much extra help to get along, like eye glasses, and bras and coats and boots. I think we need to stop trying to grow our populations, something that we think needs to happen to keep an economy growing. We need to change our thinking to encompass our own population growth, and then I think so many of our endangered species would have a little more room to breath and a few less of us trying to eat them. It's amazing that the salmon could take hold in South America. I thought they were confined to the colder northern hemisphere, but I'm glad to see that's not the case. I hope they don't do too much damage down there, but they are the only Omega 3 fish source and it would be a shame to lose them completely, something I figured was a certainty. That must be very exciting to the Salmon activists.

Posted by: Julie on 18 Jun 08

Wha? Nice sentiments, but impressively ignorant.
-The only creature that produces toxic chemicals? Production of toxic chemicals is a fundamental survival strategy for many plants and animals, such as tree frogs, milkweed, monarch butterflies...
-"The colder Northern Hemisphere?" Did nobody explain that there's a pole down there too? The Southern Hemisphere is just as cold as the Northern Hemisphere. Most of the land being closer to the equator might have given you the wrong impression. But the climate in Chile is very similar to that of the Pacific Northwest and southern Alaska.
-The only Omega 3 fish source? Actually, you can find Omega 3s in other fatty fishes, too, such as tuna, mackerel, herring...

Posted by: Gareth on 19 Jun 08

Salmon are terrifically resilient. Time to get the damn dams out of their way and manage rivers as the critical ecosystems they are. The Salmon will come back.

BTW Julie, omega-3's can be found in nuts as well.

Posted by: thebob.bob on 19 Jun 08

Of all the things to be infested with...

I wish we had some of that infestation up here. It's making me hungry just reading about it.

If it helps, I volunteer to bring my barbecue grill down to Patagonia and fight the evil salmon invasion with spatula and tongs.

Posted by: Invasion of YUM on 27 Jun 08



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