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Home arrow News arrow Conservation & Environment arrow NY TIMES: Chasing the Sockeye Salmon Migration
NY TIMES: Chasing the Sockeye Salmon Migration
June 29, 2012 -- In early summer, the biggest run of wild salmon left in the world reaches its peak. The sockeye salmon migration of Bristol Bay, Alaska, can number more than 40 million fish; the resulting fishing industry is worth more than $400 million. The award-winning author (and Times contributor) Paul Greenberg, author of the New York Times bestseller “Four Fish,” is blogging via satellite as he travels down the Stuyahok River with the Alaska guide and longtime outdoorsman Mark Rutherford.

This year’s fishing trip is particularly relevant. At present the Environmental Protection Agency is weighing whether to prevent the construction of a 10 billion-ton copper and gold mine in this remote area, something many fishermen fear could spell the end of this magnificent run.
 

It seems only fitting that the first fish we catch and eat in the shadow of what could be fish-kind’s worst nightmare would be one that 98 percent of Americans have never heard of (let alone eaten). Thymallus arcticus, known commonly as the Arctic grayling, is a member of the whitefish family (yes, that whitefish, as in smoked whitefish salad on a bagel) and is esteemed by anglers for its elegant dorsal fin, which spreads south of its head like an elegantly trimmed spinnaker. Ranging in size from 12 to 24 inches, hued with beautiful blues and silvers, it is sporty and jumpy and is, by any observation, a looker.

We encountered Arctic grayling on our first day in “the bush” of southwestern Alaska after having taken an Indiana Jones-style DeHavilland Beaver float plane and landed on a tiny lake 75 nautical miles east-northeast of Dillingham, Alaska. Unloading our rafts and gear, we humped it over tundra tussocks with our outfitter, Mark Rutherford, shouting out “Hey, mamma bear!” every time we reached a thicket high enough to conceal 1,000 pounds of grizzly. Alerting bears to your presence is the first step of the five-step “hold-your-ground” strategy Rutherford advocated for a grizzly encounter, and each of us was equipped with an air horn and tiny fire-extinguisher type deal full of peppery “bear spray.” But we saw no mamma bears , and  loaded into our rafts and started floating down the Stuyahok River, where we happily encountered the grayling with no interference.

Arctic grayling demand incredibly clean, cold water. And it’s for this reason that they have not held their ground in the Lower 48. Once upon a time they could be found in great numbers in the northerly parts of the Western states, but municipal sewage, agricultural runoff and—perhaps above all—mining have so polluted American rivers that grayling can now be found in any numbers only in Canada and Alaska. The greater Bristol Bay region of Alaska is rich in grayling, so much so that the fish is considered something of an emergency survival fish. ”You hear so many stories about people getting stuck in the bush and eating grayling,” says Rutherford, who has lived in and around Alaska wild country for the better part of 25 years. “They’re the fish that you can catch with some string and a bobby pin and a little bit of bait.”

 

Read the full story in the New York Times

 

 

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D.B. PLESCHNER: California's ports, fishermen rely on healthy wetfish fisheries

August 29, 2014 -- Despite gloomy predictions of El Niño and the broader impact of climate change on the ocean and planet, California's historic wetfish fisheries carry on — still the foundation of California's fishing economy.