Understanding importance of salmon to tribes

A University of Washington environmental journalism student blogs about the decline of salmon fisheries and what it means to the Swinomish Tribe:

It turns out salmon runs are getting smaller. For the Swinomish Tribe that means a deeply rooted part of their tradition is dying off, and fish are surviving have too many toxins to be consumed in high volume. Seafood in the form of salmon, crab, shrimp and clams is a staple of the Swinomish diet. Pollution from the air, PCBs, farming, storm water, brakes, oil, basically you name it, is affecting the toxicity of these animals and therefore also the health of their daily consumers. Steve Hinton, the Director of Habitat Restoration for the Skagit River System Cooperative, said that the Swinomish without Salmon is like imagining “China without rice or the Irish without potatoes.”

Fish is a way of life for them. It is a food staple, as well as a cultural and economic foundation. But this foundation is crumbling. As the runs get smaller Swinomish fishermen find themselves jobless because there are not enough fish to catch.

A lot of this has to do with the decreasing amount of wetland area along the edges of the Skagit. Juvenile fish swim this way and hang out in inland waterways, growing bigger and staying out of danger as much as possible until they are strong enough to swim into the ocean.

Agriculture and development have decreased the amount of available wetland by flushing sea water out of their lands. Sea water kills agriculture and this river delta in La Connor is some of the richest land in the world, as long as the salt water stays out. Unfortunately that means the fish stay out too, thanks to tide gates. Tide gates are literally gates that close off when the tide starts to rise, to keep salt water out of the farmland.