25 things vanishing in America, part 2: Wild salmon


I didn't expect to be crying reading a food book, but there I was, reading Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon's book on local eating, Plenty. I was reading of the times that inspired the book's title, in the 18th, 19th and turn of the 20th centuries. The authors wrote touchingly of the Salish Sea around Vancouver, B.C., teeming with the same sorts of wildlife that must have once crowded the rivers, streams and hills of my hometown, Portland, Ore. So it was this that had me in tears. In 1907, MacKinnon writes, the coal baron James Dunsmuir anchored his steamship on the North Pacific coast and, with four men, shot a dozen bears in a morning. "Those bears would have gathered for the coming of the salmon. Until the salmon have been considered, nothing has been considered. The Pacific coast is a salmon landscape, salmon rivers and salmon forests, and in a "big year," the peak of a four-year cycle, 50 million sockeye may once have moved upstream... just so much life, such exuberance of life."

MacKinnon goes on to write about how abundant was the wild food of the Pacific Northwest in centuries past, how an anthropologist wrote, "frequently [food] was so abundant that with the most extravagant feasting they could not use it all up." And then, he writes, "that is exactly what happened. We used it all up." And no more so than the salmon.

The salmon is deeply, deeply in trouble.