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Sticky Fishies: Diseases Affecting Wild Salmon Supply

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Photo by Unhindered by Talent via Flickr

You can't fight the funk: scientists are just beginning to discover some of the more insidious effects of creeping global warming, which is about to put polar bears on the endangered species list -- and wild Alaskan salmon may be next. Alaskan fisheries, long been overflowing with magnificent salmon supplies, are now threatened with a sticky situation: warmer waters in the northern climes are breeding yucky bacteria called Ichthyophonus hoferi --or, Ich. The bacteria, while harmless to humans, makes the salmon mushy and unappetizing, as well as resistant to crucial preservation methods like drying. From the LA Times:

The chinook salmon they pulled from the Yukon River about 700 miles inland didn't smell right. It wasn't an instant, gag-inducing stench. It was more subtle but grew into an unpleasant odor of fruit rotting in the hot sun. More important, the flesh turned mealy. The salmon didn't dry right in smokehouses either. Instead of turning into rich red strips of salmon jerky, they turned black and oily like strips of greasy rotten mango.

It's gotten so bad that fishermen have been throwing out up to 30% of their catch. Many salmon are dying from the disease before they reach their spawning grounds, which is affecting the overall population. But it's not just the fisheries that will be affected; many other species such as bears and birds rely on the salmon supply for sustenance. So far, officials from the Alaskan government and from the commercial fisheries are uninterested in making efforts to conserve the salmon population, which is making the fishermen themselves restless. But this ancient bacteria seems to have only just begun ravaging the fish population.