National Geographic : 2010 Dec
onshore, pull the other end into the water, allow- ing the current to li and unfold it, then wait until the sh swim into the webbing, which catches their gills. Arrayed along the riverbank are wooden sheds where women llet the salmon and hang the narrow strips to dry in prepara- tion for smoking. Since long before statehood and oil royalties, long before Russian explorers introduced Christianity to Alaska, this scene has played out in this place. But now the two elders believe the threat the Pebble mine poses to the creeks, rivers, and lakes where salmon spawn also endangers the culture the fish have sus- tained for centuries. "Once that's gone," Akelkok says, referring to the region's biological vitality, "you can't get it back." Nothing about the condition of other once robust salmon fisheries in the lower 48 con- tradicts Akelkok's view. In the Columbia River Basin the four horsemen of sheries collapse--- habitat degradation, dams, weakening of the genetic pool through the use of hatcheries, and overhar vesting---have destroyed the salmon stock in dozens of places and reduced the rest to remnants. at's the grim backdrop for the increasingly contentious debate in Bristol Bay, one of the few places le where the condition of the sh can be discussed without using the word recovery. Bristol Bay still possesses what has been squandered elsewhere---abundance. Of all the millions of sockeye that return each year and survive the gantlet of commercial and subsistence shing in the bay, at least a million will enter the Wood River, a tributary of the Nushagak. at's a single-river population at least ten times greater than the recent annual returns for the entire Columbia River system. And unlike most other surviving runs in the U.S., which include hatchery-raised salmon, the Wood River population is completely wild. More than di erences in ecosystem integrity explain this wide gap in productivity. In Bristol Bay, shery managers have limited the length of gill nets, the number of shing permits, and the length of commercial boats. But the real genius of salmon management here is the strict use of " is is nirvana for trout and salmon shermen," says guide Nick Jackson (below), holding a 27-inch rainbow caught at the mouth of Upper Talarik Creek. Far upstream, near the mine site, researchers found young salmon and trout (le ) in the unprotected creek.