I BELIEVE IN RETURNING SALMON
I believe in returning salmon. As an Alaskan, I know full well that returning salmon are the lifeblood of our coastal and stream basin ecosystems and are the primary indicator of those ecosystems’ health.
Each spring, Alaskan fisherman—whether we are commercial, sport, or subsistence—anticipate the salmon returning home. You can actually feel our coastal and river communities vibrating with the questions of returning salmon: Where are the salmon now? How many will return? Will the run be as good as last year? How many will I catch? For example, last year for some unknown reason, red or sockeye salmon were two weeks late on the Kenai Peninsula, and the newspaper front page headlines screamed daily, “Where are the sockeye?” And we all sweated it out until they returned two weeks late in numbers that far exceeded expectations.
In Alaska, we have chum salmon, silver salmon, king salmon, pink salmon, red salmon—you name a Pacific salmon and we have it. And by the millions, they all come back to various Alaska river systems at semi-dependable times. Left alone, these fish spend one to five years in the ocean and come back to their birth stream to lay or fertilize eggs and die. They transform from strong, silver ocean fish to weak, barely-living fish in patterns of red and brown as they die. Their carcasses litter the banks of streams and rivers. It is a phenomenal occurrence, and a privilege to observe.
The reason I, along with most Alaskans, believe so strongly in returning salmon is not only for how many we can catch—but ultimately how healthy our ecosystem must be. Yes, salmon are good to eat and livelihoods depend on this fish, but the most important quality of returning salmon is their reliance on, thus their indication of, a healthy ecosystem. They tell us if the oceans are healthy, if our rivers and streams can support them, and if we have not interfered too much with their life cycle. And they drive the health of the coastal animals, birds, freshwater fish, bugs, and plants. If mining toxics, poor logging practice, bad fishery management, or ocean pollution are present at all, the run of salmon is diminished.
I believe in returning salmon not only as an indicator of coastal and river health and their importance to Alaskans, but because they are a strong metaphor for a determined, innate drive to succeed; the health of a community, and as a lynchpin of a system.
May salmon always return in record numbers to Alaska.
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