The TransAlaska oil pipeline stretches 800 miles fromPrudhoe Bay to Valdez, where I posted last week from the entry of the pipeline terminal. That post, however, omitted something of concern to anyone worried about our incessant desire to consume natural resources.
About a mile up the road from the Valdez terminal stands the Solomon Gulch Fish Hatchery. Its goal is to maintain the salmon at a level large enough to support Alaska’s salmon fishing fleet.
But the Wild Salmon Center conservation group offers three arguments as to why such efforts to save the salmon are failing — and all mention hatcheries:
1. “… [M]ost salmon restoration efforts have failed so far because they were implemented only after [wild] salmon stocks reached low levels… To restore salmon rivers at that point may mean removing mainstem dams, de-watering irrigated crops [and] eliminating popular salmon hatchery programs and reclaiming habitat.”
2. “The second mistake we made was damaging and/or replacing the native, locally-adapted genetic stocks with hatchery-bred salmon.”
3. “Fish management budgets are dominated by hatchery programs, which simply replace wild fish with hatchery fish and further weaken the native stocks that hold the promise of long-term recovery.”
Wild salmon swim hundreds of miles upstream to spawn.But the hatchery-bred fishes’ biggest challenge is to make it through a metallic mini-maze right on the bay.
The greatest obstacle to their success?
I observed a dozen sea lions sitting at the entrance of the contraption, fighting over the best spots to snatch an easy meal. And it wasn’t long before one of them threw back his head and swallowed an entire wriggling salmon head first!
After witnessing that, I pictured myself sitting in a seafood restaurant watching people consume fish whole,without giving a second thought to the sustainability of their diets.
The difference is that the sea lions’ survival depends on having fish to eat. Ours doesn’t.
Preserving the wild salmon is a hot topic in Alaska, whereit was on the 2018 ballot as Measure 1. It lost 171,711 to 103,836, supposedly because the oil and gas companies spent millions to guarantee its defeat.
The industries were protecting their ability to alter or damthe streams and rivers that have been home to salmon runsfor thousands of years.
Stand for Salmon says that, if the bill had passed, “Alaska would have become the first territory in the world to treat each of its ocean-run streams as salmon waterways, ensuring healthy fish for generations to come.”
Last night, we stood at the edge of a small stream about 30 miles inland as the wild salmon swam against the flow, braving rapids and navigating past fallen trees. My wife remarked, “It is amazing to see them this far upstream,” and it truly was.
The incredible strength and fortitude of these fish is inspiring. But if we don’t make serious changes, they’re on their way to extinction.
We can honor them – and ensure their continued existence- by leaving them off our plates!