Who would have thought that an entire book written about salmon would be a powerful, passionate and intriguing examination of an environmental icon? David R. Montgomery, Professor of Geomorphology at University of Washington, has given us a provocative and immensely interesting glimpse into one of nature’s most amazing tales of life, growth, demise and potential extinction with King of Fish: The Thousand-Year Run of Salmon.
From the history and evolution of the wild salmon, to the rise of the salmon as a food source in popularity in America and Europe, to the disastrous results of damming and overfishing on a species already fighting for survival, to the current miserable state of the salmon thanks to human greed and lack of environmental policy, the author covers everything there is to know about this hugely popular and important fish.
Basically, this is a tale of human intervention, and how our lack of concern for all things natural has led to the near-extinction of this remarkable species over the last thousand years. Montgomery shows how development and damming of rivers and changes in sea environment have led to the demise of the salmon, as well as artificial cultivation, salmon farms and other attempts to control or increase production by human means. Most heartbreaking are the stories of how dams and development around rivers has also led to the demise of many Indian populations who depended on the salmon and on the natural flows of the river to help their land prosper.
At every step throughout the salmon’s long history there has been the threat of human interference, but it is only in the last few decades the major damage has been made apparent. The author clearly believes bad environmental policy and greed play the major part in this damage, and the final chapter, “The Sixth H,” ends the salmon’s story with a heartfelt and critical plea for better and more thoughtful policies -- not just toward salmon, but toward the environment as a whole. Montgomery faults politicians for not understanding the long-term requirements of natural change, and for instead focusing on short fixes without thinking about the future and how those fixes will play out, or not play out.
There are several illustrations and black and white photos to accompany the rich, descriptive text. I thought for sure this subject matter would result in a dry read, but was so pleasantly surprised to find myself enraptured by the author’s skill at telling the salmon’s story and presenting a lot of research and detail as well. He never lost my interest.
The whole book is really not about salmon at all but about one of many species we humans are pushing to the brink of disaster with our greed, our ridiculous need to develop and overdevelop, and our rush to create cheaper product and more of it. The message is not just “save the salmon,” it’s “save the salmon, and save us all.” Whether you care about fish or not, this book packs a powerful punch and does a lot of educating as it portrays the history of salmon. I am not a big fish-lover by any means, but I found this book utterly fascinating and, quite simply, disturbing. The story of the salmon’s great run will keep you turning the pages. The message of the salmon’s rise and fall will keep you thinking long after you close the cover.
The most powerful question King of Fish left this reader with was, “If so few people are aware of the effects of our choices on salmon, how can we ever hope they will wake up to the effects of our choices…ON OURSELVES?” Like the mighty salmon, food for thought.