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Little was told of the beauty of their will to survive and their ultimate importance to the ecosystem in which they live and the cultural importance of their mere existence. As a child I thought, what a waste, they just die and rot. As adults, most of us look forward to a special meal to be dined upon at a favorite restaurant, perhaps with a view, forgetting they are so much more.
In an era where wild Atlantic salmon cannot be caught commercially, where the wild salmon runs in the north Atlantic have been diminished, and more and more people eat farmed salmon (some produced with questionable farming methods); perhaps the story of the one last wild salmon run is worth telling. The Breach, a documentary from August Island Films beautifully brings the story up-to-date. Visually stunning and lyrical as the film unfolds and weaves the beauty of the Bristol Bay and the Pacific Northwest with history, culture, and pending environmental issues.
In developing the movie he worked with fishermen, tribal leaders, scientists, policy makers, artists, authors and chefs – all combining their shared knowledge and passion for wild salmon.
The resulting documentary featuring artist Ray Troll, authors David James Duncan (The River Why), David R. Montgomery (King of Fish), Canadian activist Alexandra Morton, and Inaugural Head of the United States Environment Protection Agency, Bill Ruckelshaus has won Best International Feature Documentary at the 2014 Galway Film Festival and Best of Fest selection at the 2015 Palm Springs International Film Festival.
On the last leg of a multiple city national tour in San Francisco at The Aquarium of the Bay, Titus spoke with the passion of a man driven, yet outwardly exhausted from traveling city-to-city with the film, surviving on internal fortitude to get through yet another event. It has been a long haul since beginning the project in 2012, humbly and with compassion, he entreated the audience to think about the issues facing sustainable wild salmon.
In his opinion, “there is no sustainable farmed salmon today,” and that we need to be mindful of the aquaculture practices in regards to antibiotics and vaccines, as well as understanding what the genetic mix of the fish being developed in hatcheries. If thousands of non-native salmon escape into the wild, what would the impact be to the regional populations? What if they were diseased? At the end of the night he greeted those with questions warmly, one by one as they stood in line to speak to him. One more person informed, one more voice to save the wild salmon.
The film also explores the journey of the Elwa River Restoration project. It is no mystery that modern humans have impacted the rivers and their ecosystems with dams and demands for mineral resources. Salmon populations have been particularly vulnerable. However, story of the restoration of the Elwa River in the Olympic Peninsula is a hopeful reminder us that we can begin to reverse 100 years of damage. After decades of activism and planning, two dams were removed and on August 24, 2014 that last of the concrete was eliminated – setting the river free; a testament to the successful partnerships of native peoples, concerned citizens, activists, and government. Not only for the fish, but the benefit of the whole ecosystem.
The documentary also warns us about the continued controversy regarding the Pebble Mine project (a proposed multi-billion dollar large scale open mine for porphyry copper, gold, and molybdenum in the Bristol Bay area of Southwest Alaska) and the potential impacts to the health of the watersheds of the region as they apply to the fisheries, agriculture, and jobs. Arguments abound over process, state, and personal property rights as the project was put on hold resulting from a rare preemptive strike by the Environmental Protections Agency when it issued a 404-C veto provision of the Clean Water Act in July 2014.
Is it possible to have learned from other mining and industrial uses and failures over time to prevent history from repeating itself to the demise of our environment?
One has only to look at the recent spill on the Animas River in Colorado -- one million contaminated gallons dumped, triggered by, yes, the EPA who was conducting a site investigation as part of a Superfund-related project to stop historic leakage of mine waste. The irony is not lost. We will do well to learn, watch, and monitor these issues in subsequent months and years. Titus challenges us to take action and remain vocal and diligent about saving the wild river runs.
What happens to wild salmon makes a difference; they are food, certainly, sustainable food. They are also a bell weather as to how we successfully protect and manage our fisheries and their natural environments. If they thrive, we thrive. If we’ve learned anything from the eat local, farm to table, organic movements is the fact that people voting with their forks can make a difference. You can make the choice.
Photos Courtesy of: August Island Films and The Breach
A special thank you to Mark Titus for providing two exclusive clips from the documentary for W-E Digest.
--Robin E. H. Ove is a founding member and editor with World-Eats.org