Waiting for Salmon

Infinite Patience – Bald Eagle scanning for salmon, Chignik Lake, May 20, 2019

Each year from June 1 when Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologists begin counting at the weir on Chignik River till late summer when they remove it, an average of over 700,000 Reds (Sockeye Salmon) are tallied making their annual spawning run up this watershed on the remote Alaska Peninsula. In 2015, the number was a staggering 1,123,898 and that’s after a million Reds were taken by commercial fisherman in Chignik Lagoon, the saltwater estuary the river debouches into. Because Alaska persists in the foolishness of allowing “intercept” fisheries further out at sea, it can be difficult to determine precisely how many salmon are headed for the Chignik watershed – perhaps two million on average. Nonetheless, over that past nine years an average of 780,000 Sockeye Salmon have been counted at the weir.

Last year that number plummeted to just 540,000, and that was despite a nearly complete closure of the commercial fishery. It was, quite literally, a disaster. The cases of beef stew, generic peanut butter, lentils, canned fruit cocktail and boxed mac and cheese freighted in by government agencies didn’t begin to offset the economic and psychological hole the Sockeye collapse created.

As I write this, eager neighbors are already setting nets. Here and there an early-returning fish is showing up. But “early” is the operative term. Even in good years, the run doesn’t get going until the first week of June. Sometime during the second week of that month, the first counts of 1,000 fish a day might begin. Later in summer, daily counts will top ten thousand. The Chignik’s feeder streams will be carpeted with spawning fish. Brown Bears and Bald Eagles will be everywhere.

In a good year.

For now it’s still early.

Everyone is waiting…

…and hoping.

They enter the river with muscles of steel, bright as new dimes. By the time they’re ready to spawn, they will fill clear tributaries in a carpet of crimson. They are the lifeblood of the Chigniks. Reds…


5 thoughts on “Waiting for Salmon

  1. ……and the ramifications for all the other species down the line must have been equally distressting. Has this event happened before or is it one of the many ‘firsts, hottests, wettests” that marked 2018?PS(Great bit of writing 😉)

    • There was a downturn in salmon returns back in the 1960’s, but not as severe as last year. The entire ecosystem in the Chigniks is beginning to change – warmer, more trees, less snow pack in the mountains. Old photographs show that most of this area was tundra just a few decades ago. Now it’s covered with alders and willows. Last year was a tough year for our bears, with the poor salmon returns. But every living thing in this area depends on salmon – whales, orcas… even the berry plants, which depend on “salmon fertilizer” deposited by bears and birds. It’s a real source of frustration that most fishermen vote for the party that doesn’t believe in/doesn’t understand science.

      • Not wanting to start up a conversation but you must have heard the devastating Aus.election result achieved by the climate deniers, racists, wannabe Trumps this past Saturday.. it has the rest of us deeply worried, frustrated and in mourning. In our case miners are the fisherpeople…

        • What has been most discouraging to us has been to discover that in America and abroad, we have apparently been overestimating many of our fellow citizens. The paranoia, racism and depth of inability to read and understand accurate information has been eye opening. We always understood that in any given population, there were a few people such as this… But it causes one to draw a breath and tighten shoulders to realize that perhaps most – or at least A Lot – think this way.

        • Indeed. Here Murdoch is getting the blame for blanketing conservative propaganda plus the fear mongering that sells news and causes the widespread internalised anxiety that either results in proaction or status quo reactions. I think the internet encourages echo chambers of like minded rhetoric that can easilybe mistaken for more general consensus. soldier on.

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