Chinook salmon are renowned as a recreational gamefish, but they also play a critical role in the culture and ecology of the Pacific Northwest. Unfortunately, salmon fisheries in the region are struggling. In this video, Ashley Lewis and Tyler Hicks—both kayak anglers and Old Town ambassadors—review the ongoing efforts to restore salmon fisheries in the region. Watch and learn how anglers and non-anglers alike can help to save this keystone species.
The Struggle to Save Pacific Northwest Salmon
“Quinaults are salmon people,” Ashley Lewis says by way of introduction. The Indigenous angler spent eight years working as a guide for the Quinault Nation, exploring her culture through the lens of salmon and steelhead fishing. “The first time I came down on the river and saw salmon rolling,” she says, “it just absolutely blew my mind.”
How important can salmon really be to the broader ecosystem? As part of their wild run each year, migrating salmon travel thousands of miles from Alaska to California and as far inland as Idaho. Moving from oceans into rivers, Lewis describes how the fish bring “nutrients that make those trees and our forests healthy. All of those nutrients are moving out into the forest adjacent to the river.”
Hatcheries Help, but It’s Not Enough
Ecologist Tyler Hicks takes us to a salmon hatchery, showing how hatchery fish can help to supplement the commercial catch and provide recreational fishing opportunities. But the ultimate goal is a sustainable wild population, and the critical factor for wild salmon is habitat restoration.
Access to suitable spawning grounds will help safeguard the future of salmon fisheries. “We are seeing dam removal in rivers across the Pacific Northwest, on the Olympic Peninsula in the Columbia River Gorge,” Hicks says, “and that is key to restoring access to that habitat.”
Working Toward Sustainable Salmon Populations
Beyond habitat restoration, Lewis suggests anglers need to change how they think about sustainable fishing in general. “So my challenge…is to think about how we can cultivate new anglers in a way that’s going to help us all,” she says.
“The fish are the thing that bind the landscape together.”
Non-anglers can use their voices too, by lobbying local politicians and getting involved in conservation groups. When we work together, “that’s when we can really have what we all want,” concludes Lewis, “which is more fish.”