by Mark Titus
I have memories, somewhere around ten, of a King Salmon’s purple side arcing next to my dad’s boat at first light. And that night, the taste of the ocean in the glowing orange flesh.
Years later, I would spend three college summers in Bristol Bay, Alaska working at a salmon processing plant – and the better part of my 20s as a wilderness fishing-guide in Southeast Alaska. I was possessed in my love for and pursuit of this perfect food source – wild salmon.
And I thought I knew everything there was to know about them.
Until years later, when as a filmmaker I began to learn about wild salmons’ meteoric crash in the last 150 years. After the rapacious devastation of Europe’s salmon, the exact same human-induced practices spread to the Eastern shores of North America. The pattern followed to my home waters in the Pacific Northwest, where salmon populations are now a fraction of what they once were.
In creating The Breach I began to think of the symbiotic agreement Native Peoples had with salmon for millennia and how that has been compromised. There are hopeful restoration projects for repairing salmon runs – including the largest dam removal in US history on the Elwha River. But in thinking of what remains, my mind turned to Bristol Bay Alaska – where I’d spent those college summers 20 years before. Bristol Bay still has a perfect, healthy fishery, where 30-60 million wild salmon return each summer. They feed the land, animals and people of Bristol Bay, as they have for time immemorial.
And they feed the world. Half the world’s sockeye salmon supply comes from Bristol Bay.
In the middle of all this, a Canadian mining company is attempting to construct North America’s largest open-pit copper mine in the heart of Bristol Bay.
I sought out tribal leaders, scientists, policy makers, fishermen, artists, authors and chefs – all with a shared knowledge and passion for wild salmon as cultural treasure, mystery from the sea and food for the planet. Many spoke of salmon surviving ice ages and earthquakes for millennia. Our shared journey is in asking if wild salmon have a chance of surviving us.
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