Celebrating state's salmon resources

Posted: Sunday, June 30, 2002

In case you missed it, by executive and legislative proclamation, today has been designated "Alaska Salmon Day."

In something Gov. Tony Knowles and legislators could agree on, all Alaskans are being called on to observe the day "by celebrating our great salmon resource and participating in activities focusing on the catching and eating of salmon."

That's bound to get a chuckle from lots of quarters, since a great many Alaskans devote a huge part of their summer to doing as much of that as possible -- no arm twisting required.

Nevertheless, if anyone needs an excuse to go fishing, you've got one today.

The official proclamations acknowledge the importance of Alaska's salmon fisheries and provide an opportunity to bone up on some factoids from the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute:

Alaska's wild salmon resource is the greatest in the world. During the 1980s and 1990s, Alaska's yearly share of the world's wild salmon catch was between 35 percent and 49 percent.

Alaska's wild salmon is one of nature's original health foods. A recent delegation of 11 seafood buyers from China who visited from Petersburg to Kodiak reinforced that idea on their trip. They said the main selling point of Alaska salmon is the fact that it is ''wild and unpolluted.''

Alaska's average harvest for the 1990's was about 185 million salmon representing five different species: king (chinook), coho (silver), sockeye (red), pink (humpback) and chum (keta or dog).

Alaska salmon belong to the genus Oncorhynchus, a name formed by combining two Greek words, "onco" meaning hook or barb, and "rhyno," nose.

Alaska salmon are anadromous, meaning they spawn in fresh water and the young migrate to the sea where they mature. The timing of spawning and migration varies among the five species, but because they all need abundant, clean, fresh water for spawning they are particularly vulnerable to man.

Civilization poses a serious threat to the world's salmon stocks. Dams, irrigation, logging and industrial pollution, big cities and residential development all compete with salmon for the clean fresh water that is essential to their life cycle.

Despite a poor run of early-kings and a mediocre commercial harvest predicted for the fishing season that got under way last week, the Kenai Peninsula is generally viewed as salmon paradise in Alaska.

That notion will be reiterated this week during the Kenai River Sportfishing Association's annual Kenai River Classic, which helps spotlight the uniqueness of the Kenai River and its wild salmon resources among the many corporate sponsors, political leaders and celebrities who participate in the fund-raising event.

Not only does the classic offer an opportunity to educate those in positions to help do their part to protect the river, it also raises money for restoration and conservation projects along the river -- last year more than $1 million. It is a community effort that involves between 150 and 200 volunteers, who share a common concern for the river and want to see it and the salmon it nourishes protected.

Peninsula residents and the Kenai River and its fish are mutually dependent on one another. Just as the humans depend on the river for their livelihoods, to fill their freezers and to provide an unparalleled playground for recreational activities, the river and its fish are dependent on humans to maintain the river's and, consequently, the salmon's, health.

Alaska Salmon Day and the Kenai River Classic offer opportunities to reflect on the balance required between protecting the environment and using its natural resources for economic development.

And, in case, you're looking for a way to use some of the salmon you're bound to catch this summer, here's a recipe from Gov. Tony Knowles, courtesy of ASMI.

Alaska Salmon with Mango Mustard and Black Beans

by Gov. Tony Knowles

Salmon: Season Alaska salmon fillet with salt and pepper. Grill or bake at 425F for 10 minutes per inch of thickness, or until fish flakes when tested with a fork. Keep warm.

Beans: Drain beans, reserving one-third cup liquid. In small saucepan combine beans, reserved liquid, bell pepper, onion, cumin, coriander, chili powder, garlic powder, and salt. Cook over low heat 5 minutes.

Mango Mustard Sauce: Combine mango, cider vinegar, mustard, garlic powder, salt, and pepper in food processor or blender; process until smooth. Transfer to microwavable dish. Heat 1 to 2 minutes until warm.

To serve, spoon black beans onto serving platter. Top with salmon fillet. Drizzle mango mustard sauce over beans and salmon.

Makes 4 to 6 servings. Serve with couscous and spinach salad.

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