Sharing Salmon: Bears and People


Fat Bear Week just lately introduced the 2022 champion: 747 (aka “Bear Force One”). If you’re not conversant in this contest, it’s a contest the place you’ll be able to vote for the bear that you simply assume is the fattest amongst people who arrive at Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park, Alaska, between June and September of every 12 months to fish for salmon. As the salmon make the run up the Brooks River to their spawning spot, they journey on a tough journey: they have to swim upriver after which soar over Brooks Falls—an enormous activity. Hungry brown bears perch on prime of the waterfall, diligently engaged on their very own mission to fatten up as a lot as attainable earlier than winter arrives. Fat Bear Week is the annual match that celebrates the bears’ success in preparation for winter hibernation.

Tongue-in-cheek textual content on the web site, which lined the Fat Bear contest and requested that readers select between the 747 and one other one of many remaining contestants, 435 Holly, said that “Brooks River ain’t big enough for the two of ‘em (in reality it is, but in this competition, it ain’t). On one side of the river, the incredible bulk 747 funnels fillets like a frequent flier. Farther downstream, the Queen of Corpulence, 435 Holly, is looking for a quick-draw comeback with her superfluous solidity. This ain’t their first rodeo.”

Despite all of the enjoyable and hoopla surrounding the bears yearly, they’re not the one ones that compete for that wealthy run of salmon. People, too, rely on the fish. So, how can we share?

Brooks Falls in Alaska is among the greatest locations on the earth to look at bears as a result of early within the salmon run, the falls create a brief barrier that the migrating fish should soar over. This leads to a very profitable fishing spot for the bears. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

Putting bear wants first

When sockeye salmon return from the ocean and start to maneuver up the Brooks River to spawn, they’re very fashionable. Grizzly bears prefer to devour the fatty bellies and brains of fish they pluck from the water, a important meals supply for them. Gulls feast on salmon carcasses that litter the riverbanks. For the Wuikinuxv Nation (pronounced “Oh-wee-key-no”) on the coast of British Columbia, Canada—which consists of roughly 300 individuals—the salmon are very important.

The conventional fishing grounds of the Wuikinuxv close to Rivers Inlet—about 1,200 miles from Brooks Falls—as soon as flooded yearly with as many as 3 million sockeye salmon. This annual migration made the fish central to the Wuikinuxv tradition and weight-reduction plan. Human anglers from outdoors native communities prize sockeye salmon for his or her wealthy, dark-pink flesh, as nicely.

Fisheries managers are those who face the problem of balancing the wants of salmon-dependent wildlife, native individuals’s livelihoods and methods of life, and industrial pursuits. Finding such an equilibrium may be tough, given drastic declines in native salmon populations up to now a number of many years. The sockeye run at Rivers Inlet collapsed beginning round 1970. In 1999, fewer than 10,000 sockeye salmon returned to spawn. Decades of fishing strain from industrial fleets and warming ocean temperatures have been prime suspects.


Here, a bear demonstrates the dash-and-grab fishing model, the place a bear chases a fish and makes an attempt to pin it to the river backside with its paws. This approach is often used early within the salmon run; however as a result of it’s energetically pricey, the tactic is shortly deserted when the salmon start to skinny in numbers.

Today, nevertheless, the fishery has rebounded a bit, to a median of round 200,000 fish. There isn’t any industrial fishery. Wuikinuxv anglers catch a small variety of fish for ceremonial and subsistence functions, solely.

But the salmon stay a linchpin of the grizzly bear weight-reduction plan. Because it wasn’t clear what number of fish individuals may catch earlier than it took a toll on the bears, officers with the Wuikinuxv Nation teamed up with scientists from the Raincoast Conservation Foundation, a nonprofit, conservation science group in British Columbia. They determined to take an uncommon strategy: as a substitute of managing assets with human use as a spotlight, the ecosystem turned the primary precedence. After all, when bears have sufficient to eat, native individuals and bears can proceed to coexist peacefully, as they’ve strived to do for millennia.

Collecting bear hair for weight-reduction plan evaluation

Knowing that the quantity of salmon in bear diets influences the density of bears in an space, the analysis workforce started by analyzing salmon and bear dietary information from Wuikinuxv Nation-led analysis packages.

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On days when many salmon are migrating within the Brooks River, a big, dominant, male bear will generally catch and eat greater than 30 fish per day. Smaller bears that can’t compete for the most effective fishing spots, or bears which can be much less expert at fishing, could catch and eat significantly much less.

Over a span of seven years beginning in 2013, Raincoast Conservation Foundation scientists within the firm of Wuikinuxv Nation representatives collected tufts of hair caught in strands of barbed wire set round bait that attracted bears. A DNA evaluation enabled 51 totally different grizzlies to be distinguished. Then, the hair was examined for molecules related to totally different diets. Certain ranges of carbon-13 and nitrogen-15 are a fingerprint for meals that comes from the ocean, together with sockeye salmon. The outcomes confirmed that salmon made up almost two-thirds of the bears’ diets.

Looking on the relationship between bear numbers and their diets, and the fluctuations in salmon numbers over the many years, the scientists calculated what number of sockeye salmon the nation’s fishers may catch every year with out inflicting a long-term depletion of the salmon run and with out inflicting a serious downturn in bear numbers. They discovered that in a typical 12 months, limiting the catch to 45,000 fish—roughly 10 % beneath the sustainable restrict—would end in 10 % fewer bears within the space than if the Wuikinuxv didn’t catch any fish in any respect. The findings have been revealed in a paper within the science journal Marine and Coastal Fisheries in August 2021.

For the Wuikinuxv Nation members, catching 10 % fewer fish whereas having 10 % fewer bears was deemed acceptable. Also, the catch restrict was increased than the 30,000-fish-catch goal the nation now makes use of.

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The Wuikinuxv Nation had a want to discover a stability between the wants of bears and people of individuals. The 10-percent trade-off honors the Wuikinuxv spirit of “nanakila,” which suggests to be a guardian.

In the previous, it was uncommon to develop fishing targets in collaboration with Indigenous peoples and with a watch towards the wants of different animals. Fisheries usually set the utmost restrict that may be sustained over time with little session with native peoples. Hopefully, this new strategy might be a mannequin for different fisheries.

Adhering to the 10-percent resolution

This examine—and the settlement that resulted from it—reveals that individuals and bears can share salmon with out harming one another’s pursuits. The 10-percent trade-off shouldn’t be solely operable, however it honors the Wuikinuxv spirit of nanakila, which suggests to keep watch over one thing or somebody; to be a protector or guardian.

What additionally outcomes is an illustration of how science can mix with the values of an Indigenous individuals to handle scarce pure assets. The individuals of the Wuikinuxv Nation know that if the sockeye salmon inhabitants dramatically rebuilds, a industrial fishery may reopen in Rivers Inlet. Balancing a catch that wildlife wants with a yield that native individuals require is a system for achievement.

Here’s to discovering your true locations and pure habitats,



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