This I Believe
I believe in wild Pacific salmon. Not farmed salmon or hatchery salmon, but really wild salmon that begin life as bright eggs in the gravel of Pacific Coast streams, and several months or several years later, migrate to the ocean and return years later to spawn and die. I believe in fishing for salmon, eating salmon and protecting wild salmon and their rivers.
I didn’t always believe in salmon. Growing up in Louisiana, I fished for speckled trout and redfish and believed in the Catholic catechism as taught by the Sisters of St. Joseph. When I moved to the Pacific Northwest twenty years ago, I got a job working with Native American tribes that fished for salmon on the Columbia River. My salmon education included stories from the older tribal members who remembered fishing for salmon before dams turned a living river into a series of slow-moving reservoirs. Theirs was a different religion, connected to the migration cycles of salmon for millennia in ways I learned to admire but could hardly comprehend.
Over the years, I have learned from scientists more about the role of salmon in our landscapes – how the dying salmon feed their offspring by releasing ocean nutrients contained in their decaying bodies into the rivers and how these nutrients feed everything from caddis flies to bears to fir trees and all are made healthier. That there are little traces of chinook salmon in the wood of our houses, chum salmon in the fruit from our orchards, and maybe even a little bit of coho salmon in that nice glass of Pinot from California’s Russian River vineyards. And I remembered the essential Christian paradox that, because of Christ, we believe that in death there is eternal life.
In the Pacific Northwest, we are losing our salmon. Only three sockeye salmon returned to their home waters this year, a tiny remnant of a run that gave Idaho’s Redfish Lake its name. Other salmon stocks, like the once abundant spring chinook of the Snake River basin, continue their long slow decline towards extinction, severing the connection between the ocean’s bounty and our depleted watersheds. Our politicians pay lip service to salmon, but the hard choices we must make to save them elude us. We are lost in a series of lawsuits, seemingly endless government process and dilatory tactics by those who benefit from the status quo of industrial rivers and cheap electricity. We have begun to wonder what our landscape will be when there are no more salmon to feed and inspire us.
So I believe that salmon are worth taking out dams for, worth protecting salmon streams by not cutting down trees or building subdivisions or spraying pesticides or any of the other actions that put silt or pollution in those streams or make them too warm for fish. I believe I should not fish in places where there are not enough wild salmon but, where there are enough salmon for sustainable fisheries, I can take my place at the communion table of salmon and share in their sacrifice.
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