Photo: Salmon: A keystone species

Salmon like this sockeye are a good indicator of how well we are taking care of the marine and terrestrial ecosystems in PNCIMA. (Credit: Jeffery Young)

Welcome to the salmon page of the 'I Am Fish' tour. These three guiding words, I am fish, appear simple. But they reflect an ancient and extraordinary web of biological activity that connects humans with the ocean.

I am salmon

It is possible through scientific techniques to measure the amount of nutrients originating from dead salmon that are sequestered into trees, bugs, our bodies or even a glass of wine. Salmon hatched as far south as the wine-growing watersheds of California head out to the open ocean, migrate and feed in the North Pacific and return back to California to spawn, die, and decompose. Up to a quarter of the nitrogen found in the leaves of grape plants in these watersheds originate from the carcasses of salmon. There are thousands of individual streams in the Canada's Pacific North Coast that support various species of salmon. These salmon provide a significant role transferring nutrients from marine to terrestrial ecosystems, and supporting species from grizzly bears to water shrews. And the millions of juvenile salmon that feed along Canada's coastal waters are themselves an essential food source for many other species.

Why are salmon important to humans?

Like no other animal, salmon interact with all human value systems; intrinsic, aesthetic, cultural, ecological, recreational, economic, spiritual, political, nutritional and social. There is no species more "valuable" in Canada's Pacific Ocean. All of these values originate from the salmon's biology. Salmon inhabit nearly all freshwater lakes and rivers in British Columbia. They are hatched in people's backyards weighing less than a penny, travel distances to Japan and back acquiring mass from the Pacific Ocean, and then return to their natal waters full of 'value'. In this journey they interact with human bodies and humanity in countless ways, from the taste receptors on our tongue to our adrenal glands when one strikes our fishing line, or from dopamine released in our brain resulting from the pleasure of simply watching them carry out their lives. Communities celebrate them through dance, festivals, and art. School children join efforts to save them. Fishermen make their living. Electoral seats are won and lost over how salmon are managed. And humans are just one animal that values salmon. From mayflies whose life span is only hours long to millennia-old red cedars, salmon are enmeshed throughout all coastal species.

What can we do to protect them?

Because they live in streams, lakes, rivers, estuaries and open ocean, the health of salmon populations are a good indicator of how well we are taking care of the marine and terrestrial ecosystems along Canada's Pacific coastline. If we have abundant healthy salmon runs, then we have probably achieved the goal of managing human activities with ecosystems in mind. Unfortunately we continue to lose salmon runs, and many salmon stocks are experiencing unprecedented declines, suggesting we have a lot more work to do. Salmon farming, habitat loss, climate change, and overfishing are all contributing to the loss of salmon.

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