Sustained by Salmon Alaskans and the wild salmon resource
In 2013, public opinion research carried out on behalf of The Salmon Project revealed that 76 percent of Alaskans view their connection to wild salmon as very important. The research showed that all Alaskans, across the full political spectrum and regardless of where they live, are attached to the resource for nutritional, cultural, recreational, environmental, symbolic and economic reasons.
Our research confirmed something we already knew in our guts – that salmon touch the lives of Alaskans in deep and numerous ways. Every Alaskan has a story about salmon: we have grown up at fish camps on the Kuskokwim River, fed it as the first food to our babies, ground out seasons on the back deck of seiners to pay for college, realized (much to the chagrin of our parents) that fishing was our calling, engineering degree be damned. We’ve spent countless summer evenings grilling salmon under the midnight sun and savoring it in the dark of winter thanks to a fully stocked freezer.
Nearly every Alaskan has a personal stake in the well-being of the resource, which puts the state’s commercial industry in a unique place — allocation and management decisions in Alaska aren’t just of interest to the industry, but to the people of our state as a whole. Surely, this creates tension. But it also creates opportunities. Media and politics all too often focus on the conflicts surrounding fishery resources, but commercial fishermen have important knowledge and powerful connections to the resource that can be shared.
It is not uncommon for state policymakers to consider commercial fishing as primarily an out-of-state enterprise. While Alaska’s resource certainly fuels economies far beyond our own shores, we believe there’s a lot of room to make Alaskan fishermen more visible. Salmon is an important part of Alaska’s economy and cultures. This is not only true for the commercial industry, but for recreational, subsistence and personal use fisheries as well.
We’ve learned in the first year of our work that people are very interested in the “salmon stories” of other Alaskans. People want to know more about the ways that salmon fits into the lives of Alaskans of all stripes, and are grateful to talk about the good stuff (“fish in my freezer,” “connecting my family to the land,” “teaching my kids the value of hard work”), instead of just dwelling on the challenges. Thousands of people have checked out The Salmon Project’s storytelling work. Through our story campaign, hundreds have taken the time to share. Each story pays tribute to the idea that Alaskans are “sustained by salmon.”
By sharing the stories of commercial fishermen, Alaska can move past the days when policymakers equate fishermen with out-of-state interests. And if we do that, we build the strength of all salmon users.
We’re gathering resources that we can share with other Alaskans. Send us your GoPro footage, your snapshots, your fisher poet musings. Send us that crazy story about the guy you hired in a pinch and who ended up being the honorary uncle to your kids, the gal who you thought was pretty when you met her on the dock, and who kicked your butt opener after opener. Let us know what fishing did for your sons and daughters, for your marriage, for your life.
Stories told by commercial fishermen are vital to the big picture. What has your experience been fishing in Alaska? What comes to mind when you hear the words “Alaska salmon?” What do you want Alaskans to know about commercial fishing in the 49th state? Please add your voice to our project.
Find us online at http://www.salmonproject.org and follow the links to our story sharing campaign. We can’t wait to share your stories.
This was first published in the “Northern Lights” column in the National Fisherman. Erin Harrington is the Executive Director for The Salmon Project and lives in Kodiak, AK.