Our Story = Ancient Wisdom + New Science
Our Modern Haida Salmon Restoration Story – A new science based stewardship beginning following an ancient path.
History reveals the Haida people have been in a marriage with the ocean, its salmon, and other elements of their natural world since time immemorial. In more recent times, the past several decades, we have watched awestruck and with sorrow at the catastrophic decline of sea life, especially the salmon which like the Haida, share in a life tied to both land and sea.
For forty years and more, the village of Old Massett has actively engaged in work to save the dwindling salmon, trying to stop their decline, or even bring them back to historic abundance. We have studied to understand the problems and labored on solutions including backbreaking efforts in stream and riparian restoration work, cleaning and repairing spawning beds and removing debris barriers that block the migration of salmon to their spawning grounds. Old Massett projects have for decades built and nurtured salmon in state of the art hatcheries and rearing facilities and cared for salmon eggs and fry in hatching boxes and natural gravel spawning beds. This continuing labor is tireless and steadfast. Yet even with this heartfelt effort, oft times with spiritual devotion, our kindred salmon have steadily declined. This decline has been relentless decade after decade. No matter that more and more young salmon of Haida Gwaii are helped to return to the great ocean pastures, fewer and fewer mature salmon return. Something has clearly been tragically amiss on those ocean pastures.
The ocean pastures of salmon are similar to pastures on land. When the good stewardship of pastures on land helps them to flourish the animals that graze upon those pastures flourish. When the pastures fall into a state of collapse through neglect or intent the livestock declines are apocalyptic. This apocalyptic fish stock collapse is what we have seen and are seeing on the long neglected ocean pastures of the North Pacific. The scientific community has been dutifully but passively observing this ocean pasture collapse since ocean observing satellites were first lofted into orbit in the early 1980’s. The measure of this decline from space shows the steady decline; those studies show about 30% of the phytoplankton productivity on pastures of the North Pacific has been seen to disappear since those observations began. Clearly the collapse didn’t simply begin when we gained the ability to see it from space. Our salmon pastures have been in decline for 50 years or more and the rate of decline is increasing. Time is running out! And fast!
In 2010 something wonderful happened that focused our attention on the collapse of the salmon pastures and the salmon. The runs of Sockeye salmon that were expected to return to the Fraser River in 2010 were forecast to be the lowest numbers in all of history. Out of the blue, instead of the dwindling 1 million Sockeye expected the world watched in amazement as 40 million of the fish returned, the largest Sockeye return in all of the historical record. These were salmon that were four years old upon their return. The young salmon migrated out of the Fraser River in the summer of 2008 in neither remarkable numbers nor special condition. The predictions of the meager, record low, returns should have been correct. The young fish of 2008 arrived on their ocean pastures and found on those pastures uncommonly restored to productivity levels of a century ago and filled with a welcome abundance. Tens of millions of young sockeye thrived instead of mere millions.
What we know now the reason for the historic 2010 sockeye run is that during the summer of 2008 as the young salmon swam to their ocean pastures a volcano erupted in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska. For a few days the volcano erupted throwing a vast cloud of volcanic dust into the air. Airline flights were re-routed and cancelled due to this thick cloud of mineral dust. As the dust drifted in the wind and settled onto the Northeast Pacific the life giving mineral micro-nutrients it carried was seen with the help of those satellites in orbit to be nourishing and restoring the ocean pasture as vast blooms of plankton turned the ocean from blue to green. The young salmon of 2008 arriving on these rich pastures were nourished, survived in great numbers, and gained strength and endurance to continue the all-important ocean cycle of their life. If there were question that the fortuitous volcanic dust was responsible for the apparent cause and effect benefit to the sockeye salmon one only needs to look to the second largest sockeye salmon return in history. That second largest run of sockeye was the 1958 return which followed two years on the heel of another rare Aleutian volcanic eruption. We know now that for the Sockeye salmon who graze our ocean pastures the proverb “all we are is dust in the wind” could not be more true.
As the people of Old Massett who have long sought to live in harmony with land and sea a simple truth has become apparent. We must rekindle our stewardship of our ocean pastures; it is a cultural, spiritual, and practical imperative. The Haida people and culture would never have flourished as it has for millennia without the relationship we have with the salmon and the sea. Modern science is helping show us the path we must take. The effort required is not so great that the Village of Old Massett cannot become stewards to help those pastures to flourish year after year. We’ve proven our success and caring role as stewards of the salmon spawning beds and nurseries in the rivers and streams of our land and we know that has not been enough. We must no longer turn a blind eye to our Haida ocean salmon pastures and do nothing but watch them collapse even further.
So this is how the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation has begun. With a community referendum and the largest voter turnout and largest majority vote in Old Massett Village Council history we begin. Our plan is to engage in the best applied pasture and ocean science to develop and deliver practical and affordable stewardship for our sovereign Haida Ocean. This was no mere vote of confidence it was a vote of by a village to dig into their trust fund and provide the cash to become the stewards of the Haida Ocean. In a community numbering only 750 people devoting millions of dollars to this pioneering effort is no small measure of devotion or of confidence that this is a chore that must be done. Nothing less than the restoration of the ocean and the sustenance of the life and culture of these people of the salmon are at stake.
Help restore the ocean pastures; 40 million salmon can’t be wrong!
To read some of our history that guides us in this work peruse the Haida parables page.