Kids in Alaska recite the names of the five species of salmon

To keep this tradition going, we have to save salmon, the state’s most iconic fish.

Sockeye Salmon
NPS / D. Young. 2003 | Public Domain
Sockeye Salmon

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Wild salmon leap and glisten in the rivers of Alaska, giving the state one of its most iconic species. The fish is such a strong symbol that it is common for Alaska schoolchildren to learn to recite the five types of salmon—Chum, Chinook (aka King), Sockeye, Pink and Coho (aka Silver)—and learn about their lifecycles. 

With their shimmering scales, hooked beaks and colorful spotted patterns, the fish are just as fascinating (some would say beautiful) as they are powerful, pushing against strong currents to swim upstream during migration. They can even project themselves upwards through the torrential rush of waterfalls. 

Salmon: A keystone species, struggling 

But in recent years, Alaskans have watched Chinooks – the state fish – and other salmon struggle with trawling, logging, mining, warming waters and more damaging their habitat. All 5 species are in need of conservation efforts.

Salmon is a keystone species, crucial to the wellbeing of Alaska’s river ecosystems. The young are food for birds and fish, as well as river otters and other land animals. As they mature and move into the ocean, they are preyed upon by orcas, salmon sharks, seals and more. And of course, we’ve all seen the clips of bears feasting on adult salmon as they return to the rivers to spawn. Dead salmon provide nitrogen and fertilize lands along rivers. One study even found that trees grow more than 3 times faster if salmon are in the river. Thus, when salmon populations drop, it threatens the futures of other species and entire food chains.

Natalia Kollegova | Pixabay.com
Catching salmon

Recovering America’s Wildlife Act

The state of Alaska has all five species of salmon on its Alaska Wildlife Action Plan, listed as “species of greatest conservation need.” The plan is a written by state wildlife officials, a blueprint for how to help vulnerable species and prevent them from sliding toward extinction. It lays out what it will take to help the species recover. 

The challenge with Alaska’s plan, as well as the plans for the other forty-nine states, is that these wildlife plans lack the funding needed to truly conserve the species covered. And Alaska’s plan isn’t a small one. More than 600 species are covered, including the Alaskan hare, rock sandpiper, pinto abalone, the sei whale and more than 600 other species. 

That’s why we are working to pass Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, a bipartisan bill in Congress that would give each state new resources to restore habitats, research and track species, control invasive species, reconnect landscapes and more. With $1.3 billion annually divided between the 50 states and another $100,000 for tribal lands, this funding would help Alaska put the action into its wildlife action plan. 

Sen. Lisa Murkowski | Public Domain
Sen. Dan Sullivan | Public Domain

Senators Murkowski and Sullivan in Alaska have an opportunity to join this bipartisan bill as cosponsors and help the salmon and other Alaska species thrive. We urge them to do so, and you can too (see side bar to the right). 

With everyone’s help, we can give all of Alaska’s vulnerable species a firmer hold on survival and help protect Alaska’s unique and diverse landscape.

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Authors

Dyani Chapman

State Director, Alaska Environment Action

Dyani is the state director of Alaska Environment and runs campaigns to promote clean air and water, open spaces, and a livable climate in Alaska. She lives in Anchorage and loves to hike, ski and hang out with her family.

Zoe Garderet

Wildlife Intern

Zoe Garderet is a senior at Tufts University and a wildlife intern for Environment America, based in Boston, Massachusetts.

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