Chapter 5  The Harvest of Salmon

 Picture of woman cleaning fish

Key Concepts


The harvest of salmon has long been an important part of Alaska’s history. Salmon harvests will continue to play an important part in the economic and cultural lives of Alaskans.


Chapter Objectives


Students will be able to describe:

·        the four categories of Alaska salmon harvesters and their gear: commercial, subsistence, sport, and personal use;

·        the history and importance of each, both culturally and economically,

·        the challenge of balancing these uses with changing economic conditions and salmon populations, and,

·        how they can identify and help their community respond to this challenge.


Terms Students Should Understand


The harvest of salmon has long been an important part of Alaska’s history. Salmon harvests will continue to play an important part in the economic and cultural lives of Alaskans.


commercial fishing- the harvest of fish for sale.

subsistence- the use of efficient harvest methods to collect wildlife for personal and family consumption, barter or trade by rural residents.

sport fishing- fishing for recreation and/or harvest. 

personal use fishing- using efficient methods of harvest to take fish for personal and family use by all Alaska residents.


Background for Teachers


Are salmon that important to Alaskans today?

·   Alaska’s commercial fisheries regularly harvest more than 100 million salmon a year.

·   More than half of all Alaskans fish for sport or personal use, and many families make their living guiding, housing, and equipping visiting sport fishers.

·   More than 15,000 families in all regions of rural Alaska harvest salmon for subsistence.

Students should explore the importance of salmon to various cultures and lifestyles in Alaska.

What are Alaska’s leaders doing to help the commercial fishing industry in Alaska?

In 2003, as market prices of Alaska salmon declined, Governor Frank Murkowski’s administration initiated the Governor’s Fishery Revitalization Strategy using $50 million from Federal Disaster funds and congressional funds from the Southeast Sustainable Salmon Fund. The Governor’s program provides direct aid to low- income fishermen, aid to municipalities, and Fisheries Economic Development Grants.  The development grants are a competitive program open to municipalities, non-profit groups and private industry. Projects funded include processing equipment, freezing & chilling, and marine infrastructure.

The program also funds:

·        Marketing Matching Grants, a competitive grant program open to processors and exporters looking to find new ways to sell Alaska salmon products,

·        the Wild Salmon Campaign: a targeted media campaign teaching the benefits of consuming wild Alaska salmon, and

·        funding for initiatives to improve quality and transportation of salmon, research and development into new technologies, small business assistance, a rural development investment fund, and a statewide fisheries business plan.

Questions For Discussion


1. How do the differences in life cycle, time of spawning, preferred habitat, etc. affect Alaskans’ ability to harvest fish for subsistence, commercial, or recreational purposes?

It has been the summer-long bounty of salmon that has allowed Native peoples and cultures to survive and flourish in Alaska. Spreading their harvest and preservation of salmon over the entire season, indigenous people in the Northwest could take full advantage of this primary food and trade resource. The wealth of food provided by salmon allowed for the great Native cultures of the Northwest to develop and flourish.

Today our harvest of subsistence salmon continues year round. Sport fishermen troll for winter kings in January. There are winter quotas on commercial salmon harvests, and it seems everyone harvests salmon the rest of the year.

2. Is there a special way of preparing salmon that you think would be a good marketing idea? One idea for increasing the market for Alaska salmon is to partner with a fast food chain and sell a salmon product nationally. Can you think of a way to preparing salmon that might be exciting to consumers? What makes certain fast foods successful in today’s market—and how could a salmon product capitalize on those qualities?

One way to prompt students’ thinking would be to have them find all the salmon products in local stores—canned & frozen fish, dried bits and jerky, smoked salmon, salmon sausage, etc. How do their prices and packaging compare with substitutes? How might salmon be used in fast food restaurants or in the growing variety of “quick preparation” products found in grocery stores?

3.  A major obstacle to increasing the value of Alaska salmon is maintaining quality and freshness. How can Alaska fishers maintain year-round quality in fish that are available for only part of the year? What obstacles do commercial fishers face in delivering high-quality salmon to market? How might they overcome some of these obstacles?

Salmon Quality Guidelines

This section of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute web site lists guidelines for maintaining salmon quality. It will be an eye-opener to the complexity of the problem.

4. There are many issues surrounding how catch limits of salmon are allocated among the many groups of people who want to harvest them. What are some issues that affect your community? Which ones affect your family’s personal harvest of salmon? How does where you live affect your harvest of salmon? Do you have some thoughts on resolving these issues?

Students might discuss such issues as:

·   competition between commercial and sport fishing boats in heavily populated areas;

·   differences in the value, say, a commercial troller and a charter fishing boat might receive for a single large king salmon;

·   impingement of recreational cabins or sport fishing activities on fish camps or traditional fishing grounds;

·   effects of closures and quotas on family incomes and community budgets.

Ideas for Activities


1. Have students read and discuss the descriptions of fishing by Jim Magdanz and Elizabeth Arnold on pp. 39-40 and 45-47 of Alaska’s Wild Salmon. Using these as models, ask students to interview someone in their community or reflect on their own personal accounts of a specific experience with commercial, subsistence, sport, or personal use fishing, to produce a description.

Have them find a way to recreate their experience for a larger audience using writing, visual arts, song, dance, video, or other media.

Students’ work should include:

·        careful descriptions or depictions of activities;

·        images of sights, sounds, smells;

·        feelings and attitudes of the people involved, and

·        a sense of why this activity is important to the people involved and to other community members and Alaskans.

2. Have students discuss what they know about the types of salmon harvest described in pp. 36-49 of Alaska’s Wild Salmon—commercial, subsistence, sport, and personal use. Ask them to outline topics they know little about, and list some individuals or agencies from whom they could learn more. (They can begin with agencies and organizations listed on pp. 58-61 of Alaska’s Wild Salmon.) As individuals or groups have students find more information to present to the class.

Some examples might be:

·        enlist an elder to talk about changes in subsistence fishing over the years;

·        enlist a commercial fisher to bring in and talk about gear, and to describe changes in the fishing business over the years;

·        research wild salmon marketing on the internet and report back;

·        have a state or federal fisheries manager visit class;

·        invite a sport fishing guide to talk about her or his work;

·        invite someone to teach students about catch and release.

3. Have students read p. 49 in Alaska’s Wild Salmon, which describes salmon stewardship programs on the Kenai River and lists some of the things that sport fishers can do to help protect stream banks.

In groups or as individuals, have students discuss what problems and solutions there might be related to sport fishing in their community. Have them prepare an information packet or proposal and present it to the appropriate governing body, or display it where community members can see it.


4. Ask students to research jobs available now in the seafood industry in their community and other parts of Alaska. Or ask them to explore business opportunities based on salmon harvest in their community. What jobs or business opportunities might emerge from statewide trends in hosting anglers or people interested in cultural experiences, or in efforts to improve the commercial fishing industry? How would taking a particular job or starting a new business affect a student’s family, or the community as a whole? Ask students to choose and focus on a job or business of their choice.

A good place to explore available seafood jobs is the Alaska Department of Labor Seafood Employment Unit web site.

Starting a business—such as, opening a fishing lodge, or an outdoor salmon bake with Native dancing, or a plant to produce a new salmon product—could have both positive and negative effects on a community. What might they be?

5. Ask students as individuals or groups to research and report to the class on the challenges commercial fisheries in Alaska are facing today. Are they similar to challenges during other periods of Alaska history? (They can refer to pp. 42-44 or Alaska’s Wild Salmon). What solutions are being proposed? What do they think could be done to help commercial fishers and the communities that depend on commercial fishing?


6. Have students read a book on the life of commercial fishers, subsistence fishing, or sport fishing in Alaska, then write or present a book report to the class.

(See list of titles under Resources for Students and Teachers)

 Picture of woman drying and cooking fish

Resources Especially for Teachers


See the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Divisions of Commercial Fish, Sport Fish, and Subsistence for information on harvests, regulations, and other teachers resources

ADF&G Commercial Fisheries

Refer to the sites on how to do oral history under Teacher Resources in this guide’s Introductory chapter.


Resources for Students and Teachers

The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute offers seafood recipes, health information, and resources for commercial fishers and processors. Their “small fry” link offers lessons and a video on Alaska Salmon Harvests, and a Salmon Life Cycle Poster with activities. These are targeted for 4th and 5th grade students but could also work with middle school students. The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute

Alaska Department of Labor

The Alaska Department of Labor Seafood Employment Unit web site describes seafood jobs in Alaska.

Alaska’s Commercial Salmon Fishery

This 2-page brochure about “Alaska’s Commercial Salmon Fishery” is downloadable using Adobe Acrobat Reader. It includes harvest figures and photos and descriptions of commercial salmon harvesting methods.

Books about salmon fishing

Here are a few suggested books students might enjoy:

McMillan, Bruce.

Salmon Summer

Boston : Houghton Mifflin Company, 1998.

32 p. : col. ill. ; 29 cm. 

A photo essay describing a young native Alaskan boy fishing for salmon on Kodiak Island as his ancestors have done for generations.

Page, Debra.

Orcas Around Me: My Alaskan Summer

Illustrated by Leslie Bowman

Morton Grove, Ill. : Albert Whitman & Co., 1997.

1 v. (unpaged) : col. ill. ; 23 x 29 cm.

A young boy describes his summers spent fishing for salmon with his parents and younger brother off the southeastern coast of Alaska.

Lord, Nancy

Fishcamp: Life on an Alaskan Shore

Washington, D.C. Counterpoint Press, 2000.

Thoughtful and intriguing description of a season running a set net operation in Kachemak Bay.

Hirschi, Ron.

People of Salmon and Cedar

New York : Cobblehill Books, c1996.

42 p. : ill. (some col.) ; 26 cm.

Taylor, C. Barr (Craig Barr).

Shadow of the Salmon

San Francisco, CA : HarperCollins West, 1994.

127, [1] p. : col. ill. ; 29 cm.

A fly fisherman's quest for the elusive wild salmon.

Iglauer, Edith.

Fishing with John

New York : Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1988.

305 p., [1] leaf of plates : 1 map ; 24 cm.

Rustad, Dorothy Scott.

I Married a Fisherman

Sketches by Edward O. Ramstead Jr.

Edmonds, Wash. : Alaska Northwest Pub. Co., c1986.

113 p. : ill. ; 22 cm.

Landale, Zoe,

Harvest of Salmon : Adventures in Fishing the B.C. Coast

Saanichton, B.C. ; Seattle : Hancock House Publishers, c1977.

222 p. : ill. ; 23 cm.

Forrer, Eric.

From the Nets of a Salmon Fisherman

Illustrated by Michael Flanagan

Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1973.

viii, 158 p. illus. 22 cm.

Pacific salmon fishing--Yukon Territory

Smith, Sherri L.

Lucy the Giant

New York: Delacorte Press, 2002

217 p.

15-year-old Lucy, the largest girl in her school, leaves her small Alaska town and her alcoholic father and discovers hardship and friendship posing as an adult aboard a commercial crabber.

Thompson, Donnis.

Mystery at an Alaskan Fish Site

Illustrated by Jack Gaughan

New York, Criterion Books [1967, c1966]

143 p. illus. 22 cm.

A Chicago youth goes to Alaska to spend the summer fishing for salmon with his cousin, but unfriendly neighbors and stolen fish lead the boys to the discovery of a smuggling ring.

McKervill, Hugh W.

The salmon people; the story of Canada's West Coast salmon fishing industry.

Sidney, B.C., Gray's Pub. [1967]

198 p. illus., maps. 23 cm.

Griese, Arnold A.

Anna’s Athabaskan Summer

Illustrated by Charles Ragins

Honesdale, Pa. : Boyds Mills Press ; [New York] : Distributed by St. Martin's Press, 1995. 32] p. : col. ill. ; 21 x 27 cm.

A young Athabaskan girl and her family make the annual return to their summer fish camp where they prepare for the long winter ahead.

Luenn, Nancy.

Nessa’s Fish

Illustrated by Neil Waldron

New York : Atheneum, 1990.

[32] p. : col. ill. ; 24 cm.

Nessa's ingenuity and bravery save from animal poachers the fish she and her grandmother caught to feed everyone in their Eskimo camp.

Remick, Dennis.

Anchorage : Materi

Summer fish camp / written and photographed by Dennis Remick and Tupou L. Pulu ; design and layout by Dennis Remick.als Development Center, Rural Education, University of Alaska, [198-?]

29 p. : ill. ; 28 cm.

George, Marilyn Jordan.

Following the Alaska Dream: My Salmon Trolling Adventures on the Last Frontier

Petersburg, AK : Marilyn Jordan George, c1999.

365 p. : ill. ; 23 cm.

Denton, Pedro.

Boats of Alaska: An Artist’s Guide to Alaska’s Commercial Fishing Boats

Anchorage: Publication Consultants, 1998.

80 p. ill.

Looking Ahead


In light of the history of salmon harvest since the 1850s, why might careful management be important for the survival of Alaska’s wild salmon. In what way might the salmon life cycle contribute to a “boom and bust” mentality among harvesters?


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