On Sunday, Two Sisters Bakery saw the usual morning commotion, but this time it was happening away from the counter line.
In the far corner of the bakery, wearing large grins and turquoise Salmon Love T-shirts, Erin Harrington and Miriam Roberts of The Salmon Project handed out free books to the breakfasting crowd. The event was part of The Salmon Project’s statewide “King of Fish Book Drop” campaign, which aims to deliver more than 1,200 copies of David Montgomery’s book “King of Fish: The Thousand-Year Run of Salmon” to nine Alaska communities and regions over the next few months.
“We picked communities that had a strong connection to the ocean, and Homer seemed like a natural place” said Harrington. “We knew it was a town where conversations happen.”
“King of Fish” traces the global history of salmon throughout the past 1,000 years, highlighting how human development has brought the resilient species to near-extinction in much of its native habitat.
“It’s a sad history of the fish,” said Emma Laukitis, co-founder of Salmon Sisters, who came to assist with the book drop. “It shows the ways that salmon have been treated poorly all around the world, but the bit on Alaska is much more sustainable. I think people here will be proud to read about it.”
Harrington said The Salmon Project selected Montgomery’s book because of its broad perspective on an issue close to home.
“Even for those of us who live and breathe salmon, there’s so much in this book that you’ve never thought about, so many things that are surprising. We wanted people to find the uncommon in the familiar.”
Inside the front cover of the 100 books that Harrington and Roberts left in the hands of community members this weekend is a small blank chart, designed for each reader to write her or his name, town and the year of reading.
At the bottom are instructions: Pass it on.
“We hope these books will spark conversations among friends and neighbors,” Harrington said. “The idea is that the book will be a shared jumping off place for people to talk about their salmon and their communities. Seven out of 10 Alaskans share a connection to wild salmon, which means that they also share a connection with each other.”
The idea of connecting community members through their love and respect for salmon runs throughout The Salmon Project’s mission. Their website is an artful weave of photographs, personal narratives, artwork and recipes from around the state that tie people to the powerful fish and to each other.
“It’s a celebration and an exploration,” said Harrington. “The idea is if we have a space to talk about our personal and communal connections to salmon, we’ll do a better job of keeping an eye out when an eye is needed.”
Roberts said that since the nonprofit’s launch in 2012, they have been overwhelmed by the breadth of stories that have poured in.
“From sport fishermen, to setnetters, to someone who wants to honor their grandmother through her recipe, these deep narratives are coming from Alaskans who really want to share their salmon stories; as a project we help them do that,” she said.
Harrington and Roberts stressed that the books they were handing out were only the beginning, and they hope that the conversations to follow will inspire more people to take ownership of this important resource.
Eager for feedback from the community, they encourage readers to use The Salmon Project’s website as a forum for such discussions.
For Harrington, one of the most thought-provoking aspects of Montgomery’s book is the absence of a discussion on the current state of Alaska’s wild salmon runs, which encouraged her to consider how Alaskans can help shape that history.
“He touches on Alaska, but he doesn’t describe the situation here. The reality is that we are writing our history right now. Will it be a history of loss or will it be a history of resilience and success, of making our resource endure?”
Laukitis chimed in, “People in Alaska really care about salmon as a resource and we’re all proud to be part of a sustained system. But that’s not because of you or me, it’s because of generations of the past. Hopefully we’ll realize we’re part of a bigger system that needs to be taken care of.”
For more information on “King of Fish: The Thousand-Year Run of Salmon” and The Salmon Project, visit www.salmonproject.org/book-drop.