Introduction: Salmon in Alaska

 Picture of Chinook (King, Tyee, Spring, Blackmouth) Salmon

To introduce students to the work they will do with Alaska’s Wild Salmon, we suggest they read “Introduction – Salmon in Alaska” on page 7. You can use the Questions For Discussion and Activity Ideas listed below to pique student interest in salmon and help them realize that what they are going to learn will apply directly to their everyday lives.


Key Concepts


Salmon are a crucial part of life for nearly all Alaskans. Alaska is the last great stronghold for healthy stocks of wild salmon. Each one of us is responsible for helping to sustain this resource.


Chapter Objectives


Students will:

·        think about the importance of salmon to them, their families, and their community;

·        wonder why Alaska is the last great stronghold for healthy stocks of wild salmon;

·        think about what they can do to help assure sustainable stocks of wild salmon in Alaska.


Terms Students Should Understand


stocks - naturally occurring populations of animals that breed and exist as genetic units. A salmon stock is usually associated with a specific watershed.


Background for Teachers


What is meant by “wild” salmon in the title of this book?

Scientists define wild salmon as “indigenous species that are the progeny of streambed spawners.”  Wild salmon are the product of naturally occurring stocks of salmon breeding in natural habitats.

Why is it important to distinguish specific stocks or populations of fish? 

Pacific salmon have geographically specific stocks. Each stock has adapted over time to specific watershed conditions such as water temperature and flow, size of spawning gravel, rearing habitats, and necessary patterns of seasonal migrations. Salmon from one watershed may not be able to complete their life cycle successfully in another system.

Questions For Discussion


1. Why do we see salmon only at certain times of the year? Where do they go in winter? In early spring?

We see adults in streams and rivers in the summer and fall as they return from the ocean to spawn, but much of the salmon’s complete life cycle (see page 16 in Alaska’s Wild Salmon) is hidden from us unless we look carefully. Eggs are buried in gravel while they develop during the winter, young salmon are camouflaged and hide from us while they are in the streams, smolts soon go to the sea to live for nearly all of their adult lives.

2. What’s the student holding in the picture on page 7?

She is looking at a series of vials containing salmon eggs in their development stages from egg to fry. (See Chapter 2 of Alaska’s Wild Salmon.)

3. What are some of the regulations or practices you know about that help take care of Alaska’s wild salmon stocks?

The Alaska Board of Fisheries allocates and regulates state salmon fisheries. Subsistence fishing is regulated by both state and federal boards. In both cases, there are rules and regulations established for the harvest of all salmon in Alaska.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game plays a part through in-season monitoring and adjustments to regulations in order to meet prescribed escapement goals.

 Students may be familiar with the sport fishing regulations summary for their region, or commercial fishing regulation books. (See chapters 6 & 7 in Alaska’s Wild Salmon for discussions of various regulations and the agencies responsible.)

4. What are some of the ways in which wild salmon are important to people in all parts of Alaska? To people in other parts of the world?

The answer to this question will vary by student. In rural areas, students may be familiar with all possible uses for the fish. In urban areas, many students have little knowledge of salmon or their importance. Research on the Internet can broaden all students’ understanding of the importance of wild salmon to Alaskans and to people in other parts of the world.

5. What do you know about the importance of salmon to other animals and living things near your home?

In the ocean, salmon are food for orcas, seabirds, sea lions, seals, beluga whales, porpoises, and other animals. In streams & rivers they are food for bears, gulls, mink, otter, and other animals. Nutrients from the carcasses of spawned out salmon are carried far into forest. See Section 2.

6. Imagine that there were no salmon, or only very small numbers of them, for one year in your community. How would you and your family be affected? How would your community be affected? What would happen if there were no salmon for several years, or for decades?

Students can discuss implications for food supply, livelihoods of families, income to support community services, disruption of traditions, etc. What would people eat instead of salmon?

Ideas for Activities


1. As a class, in small groups, or as individuals who will report back to the class, ask students to list all the ways they encounter salmon in their lives.

Ask how they think encounters with salmon might be different for people in other places (urban/rural, different regions of Alaska, different countries). What do salmon add to their lives?

Students might describe fishing for recreation, helping to harvest salmon, watching or studying salmon, eating or cooking it, participating in community celebrations, learning clan stories, wearing jewelry or clothing w/ a salmon theme, visiting a local hatchery or helping with stream surveys or salmon habitat restoration. They may describe family salmon recipes, fishing stories, art work and businesses in their community that use salmon (grocery stories, processors, smokeries, tee-shirt shops, fishing boats in the harbor, stores that sell hardware and gear, etc.).

This could also be a homework assignment students could do individually or with their families.

2. Ask students to bring to class something representing one of their connections with salmon.

They might choose a favorite fishing lure, a piece of traditional regalia, a clan or family story, the recipe for a favorite salmon dish, a book or magazine article, or a piece of jewelry, clothing, or art.

3. Ask students to create something exemplifying their connection with salmon.

They might create a picture or diagram, a sculpture, a cartoon, a story, a children’s story, a legend in the traditional style, a poster or brochure for advertising salmon, or an idea for a new saleable product. This could be something simple, or a long-term project to be completed as a culmination of the unit.

4. Ask students to interview family or community members, or owners of local businesses about the importance of salmon in their lives.

The development of oral histories can give older Alaskans a chance to recount the historical importance of salmon in a way that will be personally relevant to students. Students could revisit the person they interview now in an activity for Chapter 5.

Resources Especially for Teachers

This article on the Alaska Native Knowledge Network web site suggests guidelines for interviewing elders to gather material for use in the classroom.

Youth Source

This Oral History Unit Overview is on the Youth Source web site of the Heritage Community Foundation in Alberta, Canada

There are many sites on the worldwide web that suggest ways to conduct oral histories (Search for “How to do oral history.”)


Resources for Students and Teachers


Fobes, Natalie. 1994. Reaching Home: Pacific Salmon, Pacific People. Seattle: Alaska Northwest Books

This book of photos and essays beautifully illustrates salmon evolution and biology, and the myriad connections between salmon and people in the Pacific Northwest.

Looking Ahead


Ask students to think about why there are five different species of salmon in Alaska. How do they think salmon came to be different from, say, halibut or whitefish?


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