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
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 about...fish.
The festival, now 35 years old, truly embodies their creed to “celebrate
one of Issaquah’s greatest treasures, the annual return of the salmon.”
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.
© STEALTH TECHNOLOGIES INC.