Salmon: A Fish, the Earth, and the History of Their Common Fate
Henry David Thoreau wrote, 'Who hears the fishes when they cry?' Maybe we need to go down to the river bank and try to listen.
In what he says is the most important piece of environmental writing in his long and award-winning career, Mark Kurlansky, best-selling author of Salt and Cod, The Big Oyster, 1968, and Milk, among many others, employs his signature multi-century storytelling and compelling attention to detail to chronicle the harrowing yet awe-inspiring life cycle of salmon.
During his research Kurlansky traveled widely and observed salmon and those who both pursue and protect them in the Pacific and the Atlantic, in Ireland, Norway, Iceland, Japan, and even the robust but not as frequently visited Kamchatka Peninsula. This world tour reveals an eras-long history of man's misdirected attempts to manipulate salmon and its environments for his own benefit and gain, whether for entertainment or to harvest food.
In addition, Kurlansky's research shows that all over the world these fish, uniquely connected to both marine and terrestrial ecology as well as fresh and salt water, are a natural barometer for the health of the planet. He documents that for centuries man's greatest assaults on nature, from overfishing to dams, from hatcheries to fish farms, from industrial pollution to the ravages of climate change, are evidenced in the sensitive life cycle of salmon.
With stunning historical and contemporary photographs and illustrations throughout, Kurlansky's insightful conclusion is that the only way to save salmon is to save the planet and, at the same time, the only way to save the planet is to save the mighty, heroic salmon.
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About the Author
"In championing a critically important part of the natural world, Kurlansky sounds an urgent alarm that commands our attention." -Kirkus Reviews
Mark Kurlansky's Salmon makes the species an ecological poster child and a microcosm of the environmental challenges we face. More than an environmental book about overfishing, the text includes a comprehensive natural and cultural history about how the salmon impacts the world. A salmon may be: a food source, a commodity, a symptom of a troubled planet, a dweller in streams, an ocean swimmer, or each of these and more. Kurlansky proves that resilient salmon have impacted the world for generations, though the species now faces an uncertain future because of compromised habitats and humanity's impact. Today's salmon population decline is striking when compared to historical data showing that some rivers used to boast millions of the fish. The book traces how that change came about, including images of rivers teeming with fish with sawdust-choked gills, rivers dammed to them, and the start up of salmon fisheries and farms. Concern for salmon is reflected in voices from the past speaking to the fish's value and the need to protect it, including from Charles Darwin and Charles Dickens. The result is a fascinating mosaic of history and science, embellished by remarkable illustrations that are a riot of fins and color, ranging from closeup natural shots to various landscapes and historical illustrations. The real beauty of the book is in its subtle transformation of a species often thought of in terms of food into one that needs to be considered with care and even championed. Its historical aspects are not easier to read once these connections are made. And while it will take a lot to change the calculus of population decline, Salmon shows that, in many ways, the salmon's fate might also be our own. JEREMIAH ROOD (November / December 2019) -- Foreword--Foreword Magazine
Having written about milk, salt, oysters, and frozen food, Kurlansky (Milk!: A 10,000-Year Food Fracas, 2018, etc.) turns his pen to an iconic fish on the brink of extinction."How many species do we lose when we lose a salmon?" asks the author toward the end of this handsomely illustrated work of natural history and environmental advocacy. The answer is that we do not know for certain, but the salmon is part of a chain of life that ranges from tiny insects to large mammals and birds. Every species, then, unlocks the door to many other species, and allowing any species to diminish is to threaten the whole web of life. So it is with the salmon. Kurlansky covers all the bases, from life cycle and reproductive history to the fact that the salmon is particularly vulnerable precisely because it spends part of its life in salt water, part in fresh water. The author observes that ideal salmon habitat includes rivers that run clear and clean and that are undammed, which are increasingly rare except in very remote places such as the Kamchatka Peninsula of Russia, which may turn out to be where salmon make their last stand. Certainly it won't be on the Columbia River, where Lewis and Clark saw a horizon of flashing fins two centuries ago, whereas "by 1975, a total of 14 dams were blocking the main Columbia River, 13 were on the Snake [River]," numbers that don't begin to take into account the thousands of smaller dams along the tributaries. Kurlansky offers a dauntingly long list of things that need to happen if the salmon is to be saved, ranging from dismantling dams to checking climate change, restoring forests and apex predators, ending the use of pesticides, and removing homes and roads from riverbanks in favor of galleries of trees. "If we can save the planet," he writes, "the salmon will be all right." And if not, we must conclude, not.In championing a critically important part of the natural world, Kurlansky sounds an urgent alarm that commands our attention.--Kirkus
"Mark Kurlansky is the maestro of metaphor. . . . In his new book, Salmon: A Fish, the Earth, and the History of Their Common Fate, Kurlansky does something similar -- but, this time, also slightly different. As anybody who has bought king salmon at $30 a pound can tell you, salmon are not ordinary. They are glamorous. And as Kurlanksy demonstrates, the light they cast on the 21st century Earth is less wondrous than worrisome." -- San Francisco Chronicle
"In more than 40 years of writing, this is the scariest thing I've ever learned. The oceans, especially the Northern Atlantic, are losing the ability to provide food. If the oceans can no longer feed the things that are supposed to live in it, then we're sunk." - Mark Kurlansky, from an interview on Maine Public Radio
It is a beautiful book, spangled throughout with stunning color photographs of a lovely fish, of pristine streams and landscapes. It's a coffee-table book shrunk to shelf-size, but the images are pertinent and illuminating, and there is nothing throwaway about the text that surrounds them or about the recipes for salmon dishes from all over the world and past centuries." -- Wall Street Journal