As Alaskans, our connections to salmon run deep. They're everywhere in our lives and in the art, poetry and imagery across the state. They sparkle on the end of our daughter's fishing line, slam into our dip nets like torpedoes and cause the corks on our gill nets to dance. Salmon are all around us -- in our freezers, favorite streams and the ocean waters where we play or earn our dollars. Rarely, though, do we take the opportunity to pause and look for them when they're least apparent -- as the wee little fry or alevin living in every wet corner of Alaska.
When I was a kid growing up in Kodiak, I used to see "minnows" in the unassuming creeks running in the greenbelt behind our neighborhood -- miles from the nearest obvious spawning salmon run. I was much older when I finally discovered these little fish were actually baby salmon, and the tiny tangles of water and bog out there are part of Alaska's big salmon "factory." Only then did I realize how my outdoor playground and life as a child were overlaid on this resource, as are the lives of so many Alaskans across the state.
At The Salmon Project, we're interested in exploring this knowledge to see how a little playful curiosity about our backyards, in combination with the powerful social media platform of Instagram, can help Alaskans share their own Salmon Love from their favorite locations where they live, work and play. Though technology is often criticized for replacing "real" human experiences with virtual realities, the "Baby Salmon Live Here" campaign aims for that sweet spot where the tech tool in our pocket opens up our eyes to the real world around us, and how people and creatures connect in the outdoors.
Here's how it works. Any person with a smartphone can pull it out, launch the Instagram app and post a photo using the hashtag #BabySalmonLiveHere. Make sure your location is turned on and you "Add Photo to Map" in the app so your photo will pop up on the Alaska Salmon Love Map at www.babysalmon.fish. You can look for baby salmon when you're out with your kids, and snap a cute photo of them peering into a creek. Or, catch a fun selfie at the harbor with schools of baby salmon darting around behind you. Presto! #BabySalmonLiveHere.
We've partnered with organizations across the state in fun and creative ways, as well. Over 60 community partners, including Girl Scouts of Alaska, Alaska Public Lands Information Centers and U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, are incorporating baby salmon activities and the campaign challenges in their summer youth camps, outdoor education programs, community cleanup events, summer festivals, elder outings and more.
"Baby Salmon Live Here" is about exploration, adventure, discovery and connectivity. So, head over to the Alaska Salmon Love Map to see what this is starting to look like. Find posts from Fairbanks to Kodiak, Bristol Bay to Juneau -- then add yours (you might even win a little salmon swag)! Visit www.babysalmon.fish for participation information, downloadable materials and to view the map -- and remember: Baby Salmon Live Here.
Erin Harrington is executive director of The Salmon Project. She was raised in Juneau and Kodiak, where she developed a passion for fish and people and the places where their lives intersect.