Why are Pacific salmon shrinking?

Pacific salmon returning to waterways up and down North America are shrinking. As Miranda Weiss explains in FERN’s latest story, published with bioGraphic, the fish are growing more slowly at sea and, in many cases, returning to spawn younger and smaller than ever before. In some places, the biggest, oldest salmon have completely disappeared.

Smaller salmon mean big uncertainties for fishermen, processors, and the communities and ecosystems that depend on these fish. For Daniel Schindler, a biologist at the University of Washington, and other scientists who have been following this trend, the drop in salmon size sends a clear message that there’s trouble at sea for these fish, and raises urgent questions about the role of salmon hatcheries in pushing marine ecosystems to their limits. As climate change drives ocean ecosystems into uncharted waters, shrinking fish size could spell a grim future for salmon runs across the North Pacific, perhaps even threatening the bounty throbbing and writhing and fighting to spawn here at our feet.