New project unites Alaskans around connections with wild salmon
A new effort is paving the way for Alaskans to share their personal relationships with one of the state’s top sources of revenue, recreation, culture and cuisine: salmon.
The Salmon Project, currently in its exploratory phase, launched its web site this month inviting Alaskans to examine their personal connections to salmon by taking part in surveys, social media activities and exploring in-depth research collected by the project. Organizer Erin Harrington hopes that over the next several months, she’ll have enough evidence that Alaskans would benefit from an institution that unifies both sides of the political and social spectrum to launch The Salmon Project as a long-term effort.
“Right now, the project is a feasibility study, examining the potential for an organization that would connect Alaskans around their common relationship to salmon,” said Harrington. “What we’ve seen so far is Alaskans are interested in sharing their personal connections to salmon, and learning ways they may be able to take a more active role in the future of the resource.”
The Salmon Project kicked off in early 2013 by conducting a series of public opinion research. DHM Research designed and carried out 11 focus groups in eight rural and urban communities around the state, interviewed 35 community leaders and surveyed more than 2,000 people.
“We wanted to find out if Alaskans even really care deeply about salmon and why? We wondered if people’s connection would vary from place to place around the state and if they were interested in talking about it,” said Harrington. “What we’ve heard so far is really pretty incredible, and stories keep rolling in.”
According to the research, 76 percent of respondents ranked the importance of the wild Alaska salmon resource as “important” or “very important” and named outdoor activities such as hunting and fishing among what they value most about living in Alaska. Three quarters of the statewide population said they felt connected to wild salmon, with culinary/nutritional value; serving as a symbol of Alaska’s identity; and value as a world-renowned premium product surfacing as the top three forms of connectivity. More results of the research are available at: salmonproject.org .
One of the project’s methods for surfacing salmon connections is encouraging Alaskans to participate in the Salmon Love survey, measuring where they land on the salmon love spectrum — whether they fish recreationally for salmon, share recipes or favorite fishing spots, fish or guide commercially, or enjoy salmon-themed art. Survey participants will be entered to win prizes to further enhance their salmon experience, such as a grill, vacuum sealer and more. Alaskans can take the survey at: www.salmonproject.org/sweepstakes .
“Along with feeling very connected to the benefits of wild salmon, Alaskans expressed concern for the future of the resource,” Harrington said. According to the research, 42 percent of participants said they were “very concerned” and 39 percent “somewhat concerned” about the future of wild salmon. Declining runs, cultural disruption, environmental changes, large-scale development and lack of confidence in scientific knowledge and management practices were listed as the top threats.
Harrington stresses that the goal of The Salmon Project is to seek common ground around salmon, rather than focusing on conservation or resource development goals or projects.
“Alaskans can be on complete opposite ends of the salmon debate, or come from completely different geographic, cultural, economic and political backgrounds, yet have the same desire to raise awareness about wild salmon, strengthen connections to the resource and ultimately ensure its healthy future in the state,” said Harrington. “And that’s the united front we hope to provide through The Salmon Project.”
In addition to housing research about how Alaskans connect with salmon, the website provides information encouraging landowners to “practice safe salmon” by learning about salmon habitats, the salmon life cycle, and caring for their catch.
“The ‘King Maker’ program recognizes individual Alaskans — from land owners to elementary students — for making a difference for salmon where they live,” said Harrington. “From building docks, cutting down trees or riding ATVs through salmon streams, people’s actions have an impact on salmon; actions they may not even be aware of.”
Through a partnership with Great Land Trust, The Salmon Project is piloting the King Maker program in the Mat-Su Valley in 2013. Interested landowners can receive an informational packet by calling 907-746-6406.
Over the next several months, residents will see an increasing presence of The Salmon Project at community gatherings across the state and on social media (www.facebook.com/aksalmonproject;  @AKSalmonProject), where Alaskans are encouraged to share photos, videos and stories of their salmon connections. More information can be found at www.salmonproject.org  or by calling Erin Harrington at 907-942-1198.
The Salmon Project press release