Salmon: a book review
Author Mark Kurlansky has written an epic tale of the global demise of salmon habitat in his newest book, Salmon: A Fish, the Earth, and the History of Their Common Fate. He had previously written about the collapse of cod fisheries in the North Atlantic.
This book is an impressive work of almost five hundred pages about the demise of salmon habitat over five centuries with footnotes and photos which indicate that the author did a vast amount of research. The book is an actual encyclopedia of all things salmon.
On reading it, the first thing one realizes is that “salmon” does not mean only one kind of fish. The word designates a huge family of fish that have differences depending on what part of the world they swim in and in what specific river they originated. It is common knowledge that salmon, after maturing in the ocean, return to spawn in the river in which they were born. The book is about the long history of the degradation of salmon habitat because of mining, deforestation and the building of dams on spawning rivers.
Kurlansky’s research about the history of our relationship with salmon and our attempts to regulate habitat and over-fishing covers several centuries of passing laws and spending hundreds of millions of dollars to no avail. Salmon is a threatened species despite all those efforts.
The history of salmon is the history of modern development. As one goes up the other necessarily has to go down, and hence, the subtitle of the book. The author attempts to show that our future as a planet is tied to the future of wild salmon. “Wild” differentiates fish which following the cycle of spawning in rivers and returning from years in the ocean as opposed to fish farming. He likens it to the evolution of the domestication of wild animals into cattle as we presently know these animals. As with the cattle industry, fish farming has identical problems with pollution and disease. It is a solution with huge problems attached.
Attempts over the years to manage the problem of the demise of wild salmon have involved installing fish ladders on dams, removal of hundreds of dams, habitat restoration, and fish hatcheries, but an appendix to the book claims all of these efforts are doomed to failure because they are based no on science but on myth: a loss of faith in nature.