Case Study

Legend has it that 9,000 years ago the Pacific Northwest tribe, the Chinook People (First People) needed some help with a sustainable food supply. Coyote, a mythological character found in the legends of many Indian tribes, came to the rescue. He connected the Columbia River to an upstream pond where women were keeping two fish. Coyote knew more people would come, so he decreed that the fish would swim from the pond to the ocean and return to become food for the people.

The fish returned, and Coyote taught the people how to fish; the people prospered. When Meriwether Lewis and William Clark reached the mouth of the Columbia River in November of 1805 with the Corps of Discovery, they observed the celebration of the first catch of king salmon (chinook salmon) of the season. The fish were eaten fresh and preserved by drying. The Chinook People then pounded the dried fish into a powder that they pressed into loaves that could be used for several years.

Salmon fishing in the United States by people of European descent started after the Civil War. The catch increased rapidly, peaking in the 1920s, and then declined to much lower levels (Figure 1.1). Today, some salmon runs are listed as endangered or threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act of 1973, and billions of dollars are being invested to restore runs of salmon.1 There are six species of salmon along the Pacific coast of the United States, ranging from California to Alaska. These are called anadromous fish because they spend part of their lives in fresh water and part in the ocean.