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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Salmon: The amazing journey

You can depend on the Peninsula Daily News to bring you the important stories that reflect the quality of our lives on the North Olympic Peninsula. 
There are many ways to tell a story.  If a picture is worth a thousand words, Chris Tucker’s Sept. 29, 2010 front page photo of a summer Coho jumping the Salmon Cascades on the upper Sol Duc River deep within Olympic National Park speaks volumes.  It represents one of the last great wild animal migrations on Earth.
Chris also shot a video that can be seen at
It is a migration that is remarkable for the fact that these creatures can transform themselves from fresh to saltwater fish and back again during the course of their migration. 
There are many theories on how salmon find their way back to the streams where they were born. One theory suggests the fish smell their way home. 
Others say the fish use the earth’s magnetism like a compass to find their address on the planet. 
I think salmon find their way like any other seafarer, they look at the land. That’s why salmon jump and roll, they are getting their bearings. 
The truth is no one really knows how salmon find their way home and the fact is they don’t a lot of the time.  Salmon can get lost and stray far from their home streams.  That is how salmon populated this area after the last Ice Age.  
The one thing we do know is that salmon die after they spawn. The death of the salmon brings life to the river by fertilizing an entire ecosystem from the bears to the bugs with their remains.
Native Americans referred to the bears as the mother of the other creatures because they tend to catch more fish than they eat. Bears fish for fun just like people do except the bears don’t play catch and release.  
On a good salmon stream a bear might get an urge for some fresh caviar and just eat the eggs out of the female salmon leaving the rest to be distributed down the food chain.  What was left fertilized the trees that protected and shaded the river. 
It was a system that worked since the Ice Age until the coming of the Industrial Age when the trees were cut, the salmon caught and the bears moved off to do something else for a living.   
All of which left the humans who depend on the salmon wondering, not what happened to the salmon but why is there one left? 
There could be several reasons for this. The headwaters of our rivers are protected within the pristine wilderness of Olympic National Park and our state and tribal fish hatcheries plant millions of fish that were produced from native stocks.   
Some will argue that salmon from a fish hatchery were bad for the environment but I am not one of them.
Our salmon are subjected to an industrial overharvest throughout the extent of their range.  Much of their spawning habitat is either degraded or overpopulated with humans who like to kill spawning salmon like the bears, just for something to do. 
We need hatchery fish to rebuild our salmon runs.  When hatchery fish are raised from native stock there is no difference between them and wild fish.  All of which brings me back to the photo of the salmon jumping the waterfall.  
It appears to have the clipped adipose fin of a hatchery fish. It’s running with the native fish because it is a native fish, raised from native stock.  
Personally, I have never seen anyone complain about a hatchery fish when it was on the end of their line.   

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