Many fly fishers dream about fishing the Kenai River because it is the epitome of salmon fishing. The glacial water is a light crystal blue lined by pristine wildlife, and it is home to a variety of fish. These species include the chinook(Oncorhynchus tshawytscha), coho (Oncorhynchus kisutch), sockeye (Oncorhynchus nerka), and pink (Oncorhynchus gorbuscha) salmon, as well as rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) and Dolly Varden. These fish are especially sought after because they are anadromous, meaning they migrate from the sea into their home rivers to spawn. While each is unique and colorful in their own way, they are also a cultural symbol for the native communities.
To these communities, the return of the salmon each year is a festive season. For most in the region, salmon makes up half of their food supply for the long and bitter winter. When not fishing for themselves, they are fishing to share with the rest of the world. Alaska holds the largest surviving wild salmon fishery in the world which fuels their economy and attracts adventurers from all over. A quarter of the job market is related to the salmon industry, raking in $1.5 billion each year. Similarly, 14,000 full and part time jobs are created because of these special fish. In another sense, it provides families the opportunity to pass down their traditions to youth and spend time teaching them the science and sustainability of these species. All of these symbolize the independence of the communities to maintain their cultural values.
Outside of the native communities the locals highly support the salmon industry. No matter where you are, you can strike up a conversation with anyone about the importance of salmon, not just for Alaska but for the world. Between anglers, biologists, engineers, businessmen, wildlife officers, teachers, volunteers, politicians, and many more, the dependence and respect for these amazing creatures is immeasurable. I have never seen so many people of different fields come together to protect and fight for something that usually goes unnoticed. While sport fishing, commercial fishing, and subsistence fishing have traditionally competed for resources, all of these sectors of the fishing industry have come together to protect the resource on which they all rely. The cultural significance of salmon is so deeply ingrained in Alaskan society, and this is something that we as anglers and conservationists should fight to protect.