Manna of the Northwest

Here’s how my coauthor, Bob Armstrong, introduced Southeast anadromous fish in the 3rd edition of Nature of Southeast Alaska (2014):

Sampling of anadromous fish of Southeast Alaska.

Salmon, trout, char, stickleback, and sculpin complete the list for most of Southeast Alaska’s fresh waters. In freshwater systems with sea access, sculpin and stickleback may be the only true year-round residents.

For anadromous salmonids (salmon, trout, and char), whose life cycles occur in both salt and fresh waters, the ocean provides bountiful food necessary for rapid growth. Many spend 2 or more years feeding at sea (chinook, sockeye, chum, steelhead); others spend between 1 & 2 years at sea (pink and coho) or only a few weeks or months (Dolly Varden and cutthroat). In winter, most salmon, except some kings, leave our inside waters for food-rich areas in the Gulf of Alaska. Lakes and streams blocked to migrating fish usually contain resident Dolly Varden and sometimes cutthroat trout. Here their growth is quite slow. Resident fish in streams seldom grow longer than 7 inches and in lakes seldom longer than a foot. Slow growth of fish in freshwater lakes and streams is related to cold waters and nutrient-poor soils of surrounding coniferous forests.”

Although Bob is probably best known for Guide to the Birds of Alaska (6th ed, 2015), his career with ADF&G was as a fishery research supervisor. He’s also author of Alaska’s fish: A guide to selected species (1996). For an extensive list of fish resources, check out naturebob.com, under the tab for Links and resources. There, you can even download a free pdf of his little pocket guide. (And don’t stop with fishes: Bob’s Links & resources is a treasure trove of downloadable resources on all aspects of Southeast natural history.)

No one can deny the centrality of salmon to our nutritional, ecological and spiritual existence, here on the rainy coast.  However, I do feel compelled to comment on a popular campaign slogan—‘salmon in the trees‘—which has recently moved front-&-center into the effort to rein-in destructive developments in salmon watersheds throughout the Pacific Northwest.

By one interpretation, salmon-delivered nutrients to our streamside soils are thought to make trees grow bigger and faster. Consider, for a moment, how difficult it would be to design proper experimental controls to actually measure differences in salmon-fed versus salmon-starved trees. Or, to run those experiments long enough for meaningful comparison. Ironically, riparian spruces may turn out to be some of the only species whose productivity is relatively unaffected by decomposing fish. Some of the greatest stands documented by the Landmark Trees Project are upstream of salmon-barrier falls. Conversely, we’ve seen many mediocre streamside forests with bear-discarded spawners littering the understory.

In this section

Kaxdigoowu Héen (Montana Creek): presentation for SEAL Trust

Slideshow in two parts Kaxdigoowu Héen, going back clearwater has been one of my favorite places since I first explored…

2019 | Richard Carstensen & John Hudson | slide show in 2 parts: 38 & 22 minutes

The streamwalker’s companion

This is an overview of streamwalking in Southeast Alaska intended for anyone who wants to put on a pair of…

2003 | Kathy Hocker|Terry Schwarz | 60 pages

Streamwalking

Our laminated 4-fold guide to Streamwalking is the guide you’ll want in your pocket when you’re sleuthing the borders of…

2003 | Kathy Hocker & Richard Carstensen | 4-fold laminate