Fishing for Wild Salmon in Alaska

By Rowan Jacobsen, "Swimming Upstream," March/April 2012

Alaska’s wild salmon have been heralded as healthy, tasty and sustainable. Even better news, they’re back in record numbers. Here’s why.

"I love Salmon but can't bring myself to buy it after Fukushima..the waters are contaminated now. "

Of course, we could just eat farmed salmon, which live in pens and don't require us to preserve the integrity of the surrounding environment. Then we could fill Alaska with as many mines and hydro plants as we want. (Right now, on the other side of Alaska, the Pebble Project, a massive copper and gold mine, has been proposed for the headwaters of Bristol Bay, the largest sockeye salmon fishery in the world.) But something immense would be lost. We consumers have made great strides in understanding that when we eat, we are consuming little pieces of the world and participating in entire systems of being. When I eat a farmed salmon, I'm eating the fattened product of grains, fish chow, antibiotics and a lack of exercise. But when I eat an Alaskan salmon, I know that I'm savoring a mountain-bred, river-raised, Pacific-pastured hunk of wild Alaska. And, by supporting the sustainable fishery, I'm helping to keep it that way.

In an icy pool amid a tangle of alders, I found them. A dozen flame-red sockeye salmon patrolled the pool, darting at each other and dueling for mating rights. Sockeyes' skin turns magenta as a mating signal, just before they run out of gas, having expended every ounce of energy to make it back to their nurseries. The end was coming for these 12 at any moment. Between duels they lay quiet, trying to summon more strength. They seemed to be struggling so much that I had an instinctive urge to reach into the pool and help them, but I knew better. I took one last look, then slipped away.

Contributing editor Rowan Jacobsen is the author of A Geography of Oysters and Fruitless Fall. His 2009 EatingWell article "...Or Not to Bee," on the decline of honeybees, won a James Beard Award.

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