Subsistence Salmon Beach Seining on Chignik Lake

This short video shows a group of Chignik Lake residents beach seining for Sockeye Salmon along the shores of Chignik Lake. The salmon thus harvested were later distributed to village members.

I didn’t have the lenses I might have preferred to have with me, and I have just barely begun the journey into videography, but on a recent hike up the lake to the mouth of Clarks River, an opportunity presented itself. Jake and Jamie pulled up to the beach in Jamie’s skiff and in a few minutes were joined by several other friends and neighbors who had traveled upcountry by honda. The plan was to do some beach seining along the lakeshore for Sockeye (Red) Salmon, with the request that since I was there, would I take some photos? 

I’d made the hike in hopes of finding interesting macro shots, or perhaps a moose or bear in a landscape setting. The 105mm prime lens attached to my camera wasn’t ideal for the shoot at hand, but it was the lens in hand – neither long enough to adequately capture the bear that was fishing at the mouth of Clarks when I first arrived, nor wide enough to capture the sweeping landscape the netting operation was set against. 

Nonetheless, I really got into recording this event, which has been occurring here in the Chigniks in one form or another for thousands of years. In fact, if you look closely along lake and river beaches where salmon harvesting has long occurred, you might get lucky and find stone artifacts such as the ones in the photo below.

From upper left, counterclockwise: The notched ends in the first three stones indicate that they were used as weights along the lead line – the bottom line – of a fishing net. The oblong object in the upper right is an ulu-like knife that would have been used to split salmon carcasses before they were hung to dry. It is still quite sharp. The two center pieces are arrowheads. 

Most of the time in most places, salmon spawn over clean gravel or small rocks in clear-flowing rivers and streams. Sockeye Salmon, however, often spawn along lake shorelines where upwelling in the form of small underwater springs is present. There doesn’t have to be a stream as long as enough water is seeping up through lakebed gravel in water a few feet deep. There the female Sockeye will scrape out her nest, her redd, with her tail, deposit her eggs which a male at her side will fertilize, and then push gravel back over the eggs to protect them while they incubate. Shortly after they’ve spawned, all the adult salmon will die. Their decaying carcasses provide a vital source of nutrition for the various zooplankton and small insects upon which their young will feed until they’ve matured sufficiently to migrate out to sea.

This past season, beginning in late May or early June, over half a million Red Salmon ascended the Chignik River. While many spawn in the lake itself, many others spawn in the Chignik River as well as in several tributary streams and rivers. These salmon, along with the Pink, Chum, Coho and Chinook that also run the Chignik, are foundational to life here. They provide food for our abundant bears, eagles, otters, seals and other wildlife, provide a nutrient base for the lakes and rivers, and, with the help of Brown Bears, become fertilizer for berry flats, wildflowers and other vegetation which, in turn, feed everything from mushrooms to mice to caterpillars to songbirds. It would be no exaggeration to say that every living thing along the Chignik is connected to salmon. That includes the 50-some residents of Chignik Lake, among which Barbra and I are two.

4 thoughts on “Subsistence Salmon Beach Seining on Chignik Lake

  1. Interesting and immediately reminded me of the two fishermen who lost their lives last year – there in spirit no doubt. Hope their families are coping ok 🥰

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