An Inside Look at Subsistence Salmon Fishing
By Peter Johnsen
Originally published in Izilwane
By exploring the relationship between salmon and myriad human cultures, the Great Salmon Tour documents how the loss of a natural resource dramatically affects the diversity of our planet and our common cultural heritage.
Though the concept of biodiversity and ecosystem preservation has found its way into mainstream media and public awareness, it continues to be an abstract concept for most people. Unfortunately, with loss of biodiversity comes the loss of aspects of our own cultural and historical heritage – and not in an abstract way. The link between biological and cultural diversity is shaped through the vast variety of approaches to human-environment relationships that has developed across the world’s diverse cultures. In no other species is this relationship more evident than in that between salmon species and humans.
An example is how the abundance of salmon along the North American Northwest shaped the socioeconomic and spiritual life of Native American tribes from California to Alaska. However, the decreasing numbers of Pacific salmon have diminished the importance of this fish in the daily lives of tribes in California, Oregon and Washington. In Alaska, however, Chinook salmon still return to their natal rivers in large numbers, and therefore the fish still plays an integral part in the flow of life of many Native American communities there. Seasonal salmon subsistence fisheries still shape the social organization of the Tanana Village community located along the Yukon River. It also provides food security for this community.
Faith Peters at the Tanana Village Administrative Tribal Center is a quiet and soft-spoken Athabascan woman. She is also a fisherwoman with deep roots in the Athabascan culture and subsistence fishing. With her mild demeanor and a true passion for her people and culture, she agreed to an interview – seen here – about the fisheries and the lives of the people in Tanana Village and how the two are forever intertwined.
Peter Berulf Johnsen has worked on recovering endangered and threatened fish in the Pacific Northwest United States for more than eight years. With a master’s degree and expertise in behavioral ecology and evolutionary biology, he has a strong understanding about the importance of biological diversity. He also has a background in social and economic development and has recently begun exploring the important connection between human and environmental relationships. In 2010, Peter started The Great Salmon Tour, which illustrates the connection between salmonids and people. He has visited communities in Alaska, California, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Mongolia to document salmon diversity and interview people about their ties to these species.