National Geographic : 2009 Aug
• 180° 60°N 150°E PACIFIC OCEAN Bering Sea Sea of Okhotsk ARCTIC Sea of Japan (East Sea) SIBERIA KAMCHATKA PENINSULA Historic salmon range ARCTIC CIRCLE RUSSIA CHINA NORTH KOREA SOUTH KOREA SAKHALIN (RUSSIA) HOKKAIDO (JAPAN) JAPAN wild salmon. Circumstances elsewhere are dif- ferent; threats, opportunities, regulations, and even bureaucratic structures all change year by year. e whole situation is as complicated as a nested set of matryoshka dolls---Putin contain- ing Gorbachev containing Brezhnev containing Stalin. On the Kol River, for instance, which also drains to the west coast, there is no hatch- ery, no streamside road, and (so far) no tragedy of depleted runs. What the Kol represents is superb habitat, scarcely touched, and abundant runs of wild salmon, including all six species: chinook, sockeye, chum, coho, pink, and masu. Last year, over seven million fish returned to spawn, lling the Kol so fully that in some stretches salmon were packed side to side like paving bricks. e Kol also carries another dis- tinction. By a 2006 decree of the Kamchatka government, that river (along with another nearby stream) became part of the Kol-Kekhta Regional Experimental Salmon Reserve, the world s rst whole-basin refuge established for the conservation of Paci c salmon. On the north bank now sits the Kol River Biostation, a cluster of simple wooden buildings that serves as base for a binational research e ort, its eld operations led by Kirill Kuzishchin of Moscow State University and his American colleague, Jack Stanford of the University of Montana. Kuzishchin, Stanford, and their team are studying the dynamics of the Kol ecosys- tem. ey hope to address several big questions, including: How important are salmon to the health of the entire river ecosystem? Kirill Kuzishchin is a burly man with a line- backer s neck, a sly smile, and a sharp scienti c brain. He was raised on a farm near Moscow by his grandparents. At age four he caught his rst sh and was evermore fascinated by things piscine; even now, as an associate professor in the ichthyology department at Moscow State, he loves to cast a line when collection of speci- mens is required. Among the chief lessons of his studies in freshwater ecology is that a river is more than its main channel. " e whole ood- plain acts as one single organism," Kuzishchin told me during a late evening talk at the Kol station. Water ows not just downstream but from channel to channel, both on the surface and via the underground aquifer; leaves fall into the river from riparian trees and bushes, sup- plying food and mineral nutrients to aquatic insects and microbes; whole trees topple into the water, providing cover for fish. "Every- thing is connected," he said. "The faster the growth of the trees, the more of them falling Kamchatka and Alaska offer the healthiest of the much diminished wild Pacific salmon habitats, support- ing well over half the stock. With the increase in hatchery-bred salmon, the total catch has gone up, but hatchery fish compete and interbreed with wild salmon, threatening their viability.