New book features Alaska salmon stories
Ask nearly any Alaskan about salmon, and they'll likely have a story for you.
Now, dozens of those are collected in a new book orchestrated by The Salmon Project.
"Made of Salmon" was organized by the nonprofit focused on salmon, and edited by longtime Alaska author Nancy Lord.
Among the 33 contributors are authors who live in Southeast, the Arctic and points inbetween - including Bristol Bay.
Melanie Brown has a commercial set-net site in Naknek, though she spends much of the year in Juneau. She said Lord used two blog posts about her family's connection to salmon and helped edit them into an edition.
For Brown, salmon are a source of income from summer work, and a passion to protect the rest of the year. They're also a source of sustenance, and she said her family and her ancestors have lived on salmon for hundreds of years - it's likely what brought native people to Bristol Bay thousands of years ago, even.
She and other contributors said reading the book provided a welcome sense of community. She pointed to a story by Kotzebue's Seth Kantner as one favorite. Dillingham's Verner Wilson said he also enjoyed reading other contributions as much as he enjoyed writing his own.
"I was just ecstatic to see so many stories of Alaskans from all walks of life document how salmon is important to them," he said. "It really touched me to know that from whatever corner of the Alaska we're from, we are bound by a unique species that contributes so much to us individually and as a state. Alaska is the last stronghold for truly wild salmon— that's why we must do all we can to ensure that this rich renewable resource is protected for future generations."
Wilson grew up in Dillingham, and at 30, is one of the book's younger contributors.
"One of my first memories was when my grandma taught me when I around five years old to help pick fish out of the net," he wrote in an email. "I wanted to let them go back into the water to survive. But she taught me the value of catching them—that they were there for us to eat and to sustain our family and people. Through that experience— I realized that we are truly Made of Salmon as the book title says. We're not just made of salmon in the flesh— but culturally and spiritually too. I'll never forget what my grandma, parents and family taught me about that. It's why I'm fighting to protect our rich natural resources in Bristol Bay."
Wilson, who has crewed commercially, now works as Bristol Bay Native Association's director of natural resources. Wilson said he's been telling the story of his relationship with salmon since he was a teen involved with the Alaska Youth for Environmental Action. Wilson said that work led him to connect with Lord, the book's editor, and eventually get involved in this project. But salmon also tied him to home when he attended college, and later graduate school, in New England.
"When going to both undergraduate and graduate school in New England, my parents would send me smoked fish and other Bristol Bay delicacies," he said. "My friends from other parts of the world loved it! New England has also been historically tied to a fishing culture, so sharing salmon with my new friends from there allowed me to develop special relationships with them, sometimes trading lobster for salmon. One of my good friends was from New York and said his family loved bagels and lox. After he tried our salmon, he was convinced that Bristol Bay had the best."
And although he's newer to the efforts than Brown, he shared a similar sentiment to her in terms of why the book, and telling salmon stories, is important.
"Salmon are not just our food and income, it's our way of life," he said. "It's family time working with each other. It's what allowed our people to survive and thrive for generations. It's also a keystone species as I stated in the book — because it's integral not to just the human species, but for many other species in Bristol Bay as well."
Brown said she's inspired by the young people included in the book, and hopeful for salmon's future when reading perspectives like Brown's. But, she said, concerns remain. And she hopes it will inspire more to care about fish throughout the state.
Molly Dischner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.