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This Week in Green – Oct. 30, 2010

Ash and ye shall receive

In Vancouver this week, a commission was tasked with trying to explain the decline of the sockeye salmon in the Fraser River, the longest river in British Columbia. The only problem is the inquiry into last year’s collapse turned out to show the biggest sockeye salmon run in nearly 100 years this year.

After three straight years of declining numbers — in 2009 barely one million salmon streamed back to the Fraser, an unprecedented low that sent the local economy reeling — just one year later, that number skyrocketed to 35 million.
While the commission will continue to investigate the paucity of salmon the three previous years, Dr. Timothy Parsons will focus instead on the link of volcanic ash to the creation of a massive algae bloom, which may have spawned the record salmon run.

Parsons, a professor emeritus at the University of B.C. and honorary research scientist at the Institute of Ocean Sciences, points to the eruption of Alaska’s Kasatochi volcano in 2008 for the salmon’s resurgence. His hypothesis, combined with recent research, is that the ash fertilizes the sea, causing a phytoplankton bloom, on which the salmon feed and grow.

If Parsons is right, it could lead to a new understanding of salmon and their survival, and put less focus on the salmon’s population dynamics.

“To me we have to change the whole nature of fisheries research,” Parsons said. “I’ve been saying this for a long time, but I guess it wasn’t until this volcano blew up that there had been such a good case.”