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April/May 2007
Who Loves Salmon? A Blaring Contradiction
By Maureen C. Wyse

Costumes, chants, class trips and projects…a substantial part of my childhood revolved around salmon. Raised in Issaquah, Washington, home of the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery, the town’s pride and joy, I grew up with major salmon appreciation. And every first weekend of October, Issaquah celebrates the annual return of the salmon to Issaquah’s streams and hatchery. Salmon Days, a festival for our fish friends’ homecoming, consumes the entire town. Over 150,000 people catch salmon fever and enjoy fun, free events, including a salmon themed parade, five- and 10-k runs, live entertainment, arts and crafts, kids programs and, of course, salmon viewing.

And believe me, I caught the salmon fever, too. For six years in a row on those cold drizzly mornings, I clutched a “Save the Salmon” sign in the parade, screaming chants with the rest of my elementary school: “2, 4, 6, 8 who do we appreciate?” I loved salmon and was proud to tell the world. Apparently many others were too. Now deemed one of the Northwest’s premier festivals, the Salmon Days parade includes over 100 elaborate floats presented by local schools, businesses and principle “spawnsors,” including the Seattle Times, Chevron, Chipotle, Coca-Cola, Costco, Microsoft, Boeing and more. It seems everyone has salmon love.

Walking down Front Street, you are overwhelmed by salmon paraphernalia sold by “ohfishal” volunteers. Everywhere you look people don plush salmon hats, hold salmon shaped balloons and wear “Celebrate the Salmon, Let them Swim Free” t-shirts. Save the Salmon donation booths line the streets. Bands play fishy songs as kids dressed in fishy costumes pile inside a big blowup fish to hear stories The festival, now 35 years old, truly embodies their creed to “celebrate one of Issaquah’s greatest treasures, the annual return of the salmon.”

The Treasure
Since 1936, the Issaquah hatchery has continued to attract more than 300,000 visitors annually and remains the only state hatchery within city limits. The hatchery artificially spawns coho and chinook salmon. From August to December, 10,000 to 30,000 salmon return upstream to the hatchery to spawn. Five to six million eggs are removed from the females, half are fertilized and raised at the hatchery while the rest are distributed as caviar, used for “educational” purposes or to supplement naturally spawning fish in the Lake Washington basin. Once the eggs have been laid, adult salmon are slaughtered. After two months the eggs hatch and the “fingerlings,” as they are called, are released into rearing ponds. In the spring, about one million salmon are released into the Issaquah Creek to travel to Lake Sammamish, the Sammamish River, Lake Washington, Lake Union, the Lake Washington Ship Canal, Puget Sound, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and finally to the Pacific Ocean.

These salmon deserve a festival, wouldn’t you say?

But the most popular feature of the celebration can be read on all of the signs around town: “Of course this would not be Salmon Days without salmon! Satisfy your cravings for fresh salmon with a taste of a Salmon Days tradition as old as the Festival itself. As the Festival has grown so has the amount of mouth-watering salmon served, now totaling over 2,000 pounds each year. The feast is just a short walk from the hatchery.”

That’s right, there’s no better way to celebrate salmon than to eat them. Save the salmon...for dinner?

Friends Not Food
While we call salmon our friends, that’s certainly not how we treat them. Levels of arsenic, mercury, PCBs, dioxins and other toxins can be found in the flesh and fat of wild salmon. Farmed salmon is no better, with 80 percent of U.S. salmon raised in cages and tanks, often forced to live in overcrowded conditions, and commonly suffering from injuries, sores, chronic sea lice and parasites that eat their flesh and tissue.
Makes you want to show your appreciation in other ways, huh?

Born to be…Dinner
Twelve years later the contradiction becomes clear. I trade my cardboard fins for a “Fishing Hurts” t-shirt and accompany my mother to the festival to show my salmon pride in a different way. But yet again I was stunned. The 2006 Salmon Days theme? “Born to Be Wild!” I watched people shove their faces full of salmon… and thought there must be a typo, do they mean born to be…eaten?

Salmon, one of the top three most widely consumed and intensely farmed sea critters in the U.S., are far from free. And Issaquah natives should know, with an artificial spawning hatchery smack in the middle of the town, these salmon ain’t born to be wild.


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