13. Wild Salmon
We often hear about projects that will harm salmon such as the recently proposed gold and copper mine in Alaska, but why does it matter? As it turns out, salmon isn’t just a tasty meal, but a multi-billion dollar economic engine, a centerpiece of Native American and Alaskan culture, and a species that rivers, streams, and nearby ecosystems can’t survive without. Today, we’ll break down four primary human threats endangering salmon, and discuss a few ways to protect them in the future. With special guest Dr. Syma Ebbin: Professor of Agricultural and Resource Economics and the Connecticut Sea Grant Research Coordinator at the University of Connecticut.
I love salmon as a food, so learning about them being endangered and their significance beyond a favorite meal of mine was really profound for me. I highly recommend you search for some videos of salmon leaping over waterfalls on YouTube—it’s absolutely surreal. No joke, I teared up watching them and knowing that as agile as they are, humans had blocked their path with dams the size of buildings.
I feel like salmon sometimes falls toward the low end of environmental issues we care about, and after learning more, I see just how backwards that is. Salmon provide a huge economy, huge cultural value, and are a keystone species. I shudder to think what would happen if salmon went extinct. If nutrients aren’t being delivered to the freshwater streams and rivers, it’s not just the species living in those environments getting destroyed, but it’s the bears, the nearby trees and forests, and so quickly, it ripples out in every which way. I wouldn’t be surprised if industries like timber, which we wouldn’t think of for a second when we think of salmon, could take a hit. That’s scary.
When environmentalists talk about food, it’s very often in the frame of cutting back. I knew when starting the podcast that there’s only so much cutting back people can do—for some people, it’s not even an option. I’m really happy to report that these threats do not mean you have to stop eating salmon. Syma’s note at the end that eating salmon in the summer instead of the winter and eating more locally is a very good one, and I would add that with wild salmon, it’s not them harming the environment, but us harming them. We need to help them and increase their populations. And to do that, it requires new technologies and stronger policies. I hope that breathes some fresh air into the food conversation, and I expect the overwhelming majority of our food episodes will have a tone closer to that than to beef, where it’s cows doing the harm and humans just multiplying it.
Thanks for listening! Enjoy!