Pacific salmon are an important cultural, commercial, and biological resource for countries of the North Pacific Rim. The geographic distribution of Pacific salmon spans the North Pacific Ocean, where they occupy a variety of ecosystems and water masses throughout their ocean life history. There is a general understanding that ocean and climate conditions are major factors regulating salmon abundances. However, the factors regulating salmon abundances in the ocean are not well understood, and there are significant gaps in our knowledge of the mechanisms that regulate distribution, productivity, and survival in coastal and high seas environments. More scientific effort is required to explain how the rapidly changing ocean ecosystems will affect the processes which are driving salmon survival and productivity. The overarching scientific objective of the High Seas Expeditions is to ultimately discover fundamental mechanisms that regulate salmon in the North Pacific Ocean.
Driven by the vision that a high seas winter survey of Pacific salmon could be a transformative vehicle to galvanize five countries around a pulse of effort to understand the processes driving the production of salmon, Dr. Richard Beamish has lead a campaign to make this a reality. Along with Dr. Brian Riddell from the Pacific Salmon Foundation, funding from governments, NGOs, academic partners and private industry has been raised to make the 2019, 2020, and 2022 expeditions possible.
Throughout the course of the International Year of the Salmon’s 5-year initiative, three High Seas Expeditions were planned to study the winter ecology of salmon and try to identify the mechanisms regulating salmon abundance and production. The 2019 International Gulf of Alaska Expedition, which took place on the Russian research vessel Professor Kaganovskiy, was the first successful comprehensive study of the stock abundance, composition, and condition of the stocks of 5 species of Pacific salmon (coho, chum, pink, sockeye, and Chinook) at the end of their first ocean winter in decades. The second expedition in March 2020 aimed to build off this research, and was a continuation of the international scientific effort to establish greater international research capacity for understanding the consequences of future environmental conditions. The 2022 Pan-Pacific Winter High Seas Expedition was successfully completed in April 2022, and scientists continue to analyze data and results in labs across the Northern Hemisphere.