Salmon Are More Than Food & Money
Photo Credit: Lee House
By Maya Goodini, Inletkeeper Intern, Summer 2016
The rich salmon-filled streams of Cook Inlet are a crucial part of what gives this region a sense of place, an identity. Salmon fisheries and canaries have played a significant role in shaping the history of Cook Inlet. Wild salmon are the heartbeat of south-central Alaska and define who we are as a people. For thousands of years salmon have greatly symbolized culture, spirituality, economy, nature, and a way of life for many peoples that inhabit this area. Our way of life highly depends on the salmon that have been swimming through the waters of Cook Inlet for millennia. Without them, we would not be able to function; the entire Cook Inlet ecosystem would not be able to function. Cook Inlet must keep their salmon stocks strong for generations to come.
Natural ecosystems and human economic systems are completely intertwined. Our economy and well-being depends on ecosystem services within the environment. The ability to maintain our resources depends on our ability to keep our ecosystems ample and resilient to change. Recently fishermen have undergone many environmental and economic challenges, which are concurrent with the overall salmon stock decline. Major Previous management practices have failed to protect and keep natural resources abundant. Ecologists, natural resource managers, and people alike are currently shifting their ways of management. New practices involve incorporating the interactions of complex adaptive cycles within a social-ecological system, which are very dynamic and interconnected. This new approach addresses the nature of an ecosystem’s resiliency in the face of change and uncertainty. A resilient based management system for salmon provides a way for human communities to reconnect with salmon and their complex changing environments.
Most of us can agree salmon provide very important ecosystem services here in Alaska, especially in Cook Inlet. An ecosystem service is defined as a service provided by the natural ecosystem that benefits human well-being. There are four kinds of ecosystem services: provisioning which are basic needs such as food and water, regulating which regulate our provisions such as climate and disease, supporting which support ecosystems such as nitrogen cycling or soil formation, and cultural which is for spiritual or recreational needs. Salmon provide provisioning, supporting, and cultural ecosystem services. They go beyond just being a food source and economic revenue. For thousands of years salmon have been a symbol for cultural and educational importance. Secondly, salmon provide fertilizing nutrients to other plants and animals along coastlines, rivers, and forests that keep their habitats intact. They are also a main food source to many other marine and terrestrial species that provide important ecosystem services to humans. Interestingly, salmon facilitate in structuring streambeds and sediment composition. Traditional management practices in the past have failed to recognize these ecosystem services salmon provide. As a result, salmon and their relationships within their environment are severely degrading. In keeping salmon healthy we need to keep their environment vigorous and their relationship with other species and ecosystems unharmed.
A salmon’s ecosystem is very complex with many emergent properties. There are multiple cycles interacting over vast time and spatial scales. Salmon live in ocean, terrestrial, and aquatic systems. The spatial extent and complexity of salmon ecosystems raise important managing issues. Resiliency management incorporates a bigger framework that encompasses the entire ecosystem of salmon including marine, aquatic, and terrestrial environments to strengthen their resiliency and ability to cope with unpredictable social-ecological disturbances. We need to start recognizing the consequences of our everyday actions and how they accumulate over time effect our ecosystem services over larger time and spatial scales. We must acknowledge the bigger picture of salmon by incorporating entire ecosystems and the interaction of various species and cycles within it. Humans must work within the resilient capacities of salmon to avoid placing important ecosystem services at risk. Cook Inlet is a place of diversity, richness, beauty, and abundance that many of us have fallen in love with and we take much pride in our salmon; lets continue to keep it that way.
For more information on a resilient management system for salmon: