Salmon project connects Alaskans

Salmon unite and divide Alaskans across the state.

Gear type, purpose and region all come into play in a divisive debate over salmon allocation. Three years ago, the Salmon Project started a project to change that by asking Alaskans what salmon meant to them personally.

The project began as a series of essays published in the then-online-only Alaska Dispatch. Looking at it, the organizers thought they had the beginnings of a book, said Erin Harrington, the executive director of the Salmon Project, a nonprofit that collects and shares stories about salmon from Alaskans. The collection quickly became a portrait of Alaskans’ relationship to salmon across the state, Harrington said.

“When we looked at them all together as a body of work and looked at the interest that Alaskans had, we realized that there was something really powerful there,” Harrington said. “We said, ‘Wow, this really has the potential to be a book.” The (University of Alaska Anchorage) press was really enthused about it right off the bat — they realized there wasn’t really a book about that. There was really a space for it.”

The book, titled “Made of Salmon,” gathers narratives from commercial fishermen, lodge owners, subsistence users and sportfishermen across the state and shares their thoughts on how salmon affect their lives.

From lodges to remote villages to commercial fishing sets, the book gathers the thoughts of authors from all walks of life, Harrington said. As the book was finished and begins to gain attention, the authors noticed something else — besides being about salmon, the book is also a collection from some of the most eminent writers in the state, she said. Author Ernestine Hayes, whose memoir “Blonde Indian: An Alaska Native Memoir,” contributed writing; Alaska Dispatch News columnist Charles Wohlforth wrote an essay; former Alaska first lady Bella Hammond wrote about her and her husband’s experiences with salmon; and journalist Julia O’Malley, among others.

Harrington, who was raised on Kodiak in a commercial fishing family, said the compilation shows the connections between Alaskans on a resource. Like many Alaskans. she said she has both commercial fishing and sportfishing in her “repertoire,” and the point of the book was not to highlight different gear types or attitudes, but rather to show how Alaskans connect with salmon.

“It is something that we know through our work: that salmon is omnipresent in Alaska and is so important to every Alaskan, but to be able to pick it up and pause on a page to read that truth through the voices of dozens of Alaskans, it’s been a really gratifying process and it’s a real honor,” Harrington said.

Nancy Lord, the book’s editor, said she got involved with the project three years ago as the editor for the essays. Working with the writers across the state didn’t necessarily show her anything she didn’t know but drove home how deeply embedded salmon are in culture, she said.

An author of several books and former commercial setnetter, Lord said she is changing tacks to sportfishing now near her home in Homer. That shift is an odd one, she said.

“It’s just a different approach, a totally different thing,” Lord said.

Some stories do address the current issues with declining salmon abundance. She highlighted author Kirsten Dixon, who wrote about her and her husband’s experience in their lodge of watching the king salmon runs diminish over the years as an example. Alaskans have a deep connection to king salmon in particular, she said.

One of the Salmon Project’s goals is to “take a step back” from the politicization of salmon, Harrington said. The book frames the conversation about salmon as a whole, she said.

“We’re always trying to frame it in that longer conversations,” Harrington said. “Who do we want to be as people? How do we want to treat each other? I think a question I ask myself a lot is, ‘Do we want to fight our way into the future, or do we want to figure out how to work with one another over those very long time frames?’”

“Made of Salmon” is available at Barnes and Noble in Anchorage and Fairbanks, Old Harbor Books in Sitka and Homer Bookstore in Homer. It will soon be available at Parnassus Books in Ketchikan, Gulliver’s Books in Fairbanks and the Skagway News Depot.

• Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

More in Neighbors

Tanya Renee Ahtowena Rorem at age 17. (Photo provided by Laura Rorem)
Living and Growing: ‘My name is Ahtowena’

My precocious two-year old broke loose from my grip and took off… Continue reading

The Pinkas Synagogue, the second-oldest building in Prague. (World Monuments Fund photo)
Living and Growing: Connecting to family ancestors through names of strangers on a wall in Prague

“Prague never lets you go…this dear little mother has sharp claws.” —… Continue reading

Individual eggplant parmesan rounds ready to serve. (Photo by Patty Schied)
Cooking for Pleasure: Individual eggplant parmesan rounds

These flavorful eggplant parmesans are a great side dish, especially served with… Continue reading

An aspiring knight relies on duct tape for his medieval battle gear during the Master’s Faire on July 16, 2022. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire file photo)
Gimme A Smile: Duct tape — an Alaskan’s best friend

Duct tape is an Alaskan tradition. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix… Continue reading

Fred LaPlante is the pastor at the Juneau Church of the Nazarene. (Photo courtesy of Fred LaPlante)
Living and Growing: Be a blessing

Years ago, I learned a great acronym, B.L.E.S.S. “B” stands for “Begin… Continue reading

Salad ingredients ready to assemble. (Photo by Patty Schied)
Cooking for Pleasure: Mexican corn and bean salad

Several years ago, I ate at a wonderful Mexican restaurant in Los… Continue reading

A new online dictionary features Lingít, X̱aad Kíl, Shm’algyack and English. (Mircea Brown / Courtesy of Sealaska Heritage Institute)
Neighbors: Sealaska Heritage Institute debuts multilingual online Alaska Native dictionary with audio

Platform includes resources for Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian languages.

Brent Merten is the pastor of Christ Lutheran Church in Juneau, a member of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. (Photo courtesy of Brent Merten)
Living and Growing: Your room is waiting

Thursday, May 9, is a very special day. Although most calendars don’t… Continue reading

The interior of the Pipeline Skate Park on Dec. 7, 2023. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Neighbors briefs

Join interactive design meeting for Jackie Renninger Park on May 21 CBJ… Continue reading

(Juneau Empire file photo)
Living and Growing: Twisting Scripture to suit themselves

Ever wonder why so many different people say so many different things… Continue reading

The Ward Lake Recreation Area in the Tongass National Forest. (U.S. Forest Service photo)
Neighbors: Public input sought as Tongass begins revising 25-year-old forest plan

Initial phase focuses on listening, informing, and gathering feedback.

Sister Sadria Akina, Elder Tanner Christensen and Elder Bronson Forsberg, all missionaries with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, collect litter on April 22, 2023, in the Lemon Creek area. It was their first time partaking in Juneau’s communitywide cleanup. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire file photo)
Neighbors briefs

Annual Litter Free citywide cleanup on Saturday Saturday is set for Litter… Continue reading