Surviving often requires reaching deep to find strength just to make it through to the next day. In this year of Covid-19, like many of you, I find strength, peace, solace, and spiritual renewal in wild places. Nature has its own way of renewing itself and the fall return of Chinook salmon is a major part of this renewal.

Historically, millions of Chinook salmon return to the rivers of their birth to complete their life cycles. Today, however, only a fraction return, still those that do return continue the salmon’s life cycle. Also known as King, Chinook salmon spend four years swimming along the Pacific Coast. In spring they begin migrating from Baja, Mexico northward to their natal rivers and streams along the coasts of Northern California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia and Alaska. Therefore, the return of salmon is a marker of time for more than 125 species that depend on salmon to survive and thrive.

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Many species depend on salmon to survive and thrive

While at sea, Chinook ingest marine nutrients that eventually fertilize rivers and also vegetation along the banks of their natal waterways. The vegetation seemingly knows that the returning salmon bring the building blocks for next year’s growth. The salmon also attract birds, including eagles, seagulls, blue herons, kingfishers, puffins and murres. The salmon also lure a multitude of mammals to the river system, including bears, wolves, minks, martens, weasels, and foxes. Marine mammals, like whales, orcas, sea lions and harbor seals, traverse salmon migration routes seeking a feast. Anticipating fruitful salmon runs, anglers pull out their newest gear.

Salmon Filet for dinner
Photo by Aleta Walther

When salmon reach home, the waterways come to life. The water boils with the female salmon hard at work digging their redds (nests) and male salmon fighting to be the lucky ones to fertilize the eggs of the next generation. Shore birds wade deep into the water ready to eat eggs that float out of the nest. Migrating birds navigate the Pacific Flyway south and stop along the way to snack on salmon that died after spawning. Insects like caddis flies and stoneflies feast on decaying salmon which in turn provide migrating songbirds with the food and energy they need to continue their journey southward.

Just as quickly as it began, the salmon spawning season ends. Migrating birds continue their journeys south, creatures that live along the river
are a bit fatter and some, like bears, are ready for a winter’s nap. The rivers themselves settle back into their calm, timeless flows from mountain to sea. Lastly, Mother Nature rests knowing her rivers are
nurturing the next generations of salmon.

Blue Herron enjoying a salmon gill
Photo by Jason Fareira

Those of us who witness this annual renewal are all the better for it. Our hearts are a bit fuller as our own migration through life continues. If we just stop for a moment to watch and listen to nature, it will feed our spirit and renew our lives.

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Text by Jason C. Fareira
Scientific Aide/Interpreter
Nimbus Fish Hatchery
Gold River, California

Chinook salmon cover photo by Gene Franklin

Salmon Die to Renew
Many species depend on salmon to survive and thrive

2 thoughts on “Salmon Die to Renew
Many species depend on salmon to survive and thrive

  • January 5, 2021 at 9:40 pm
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    It really makes you stop and think – here’s a species that has escaped the river, made it to the ocean, and traveled thousands of miles, yet, the clock goes off and they retrace their paths just so they can propagate and die. Makes you think…

  • December 28, 2020 at 6:46 pm
    Permalink

    Great article Jason. Thank you for letting me publish it.

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