Written by Robin Ove

The Breach, a documentary from August Island Films.


In school we're taught about the salmon's cycle of life, tiny fish swimming downstream to live in the sea, only to return to their birthplace later to spawn and die.

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.

Deep Forest by Ray Troll
Deep Forest by Ray Troll

“While Atlantic salmon return to spawn repeatedly, Pacific salmon spawn and die, nourishing the meager local soils along with bears, birds, and people living along rivers. Salmon were at the center of life for native peoples living along the Asian and American shores of the north Pacific Ocean. Like a miracle, these five different kinds of fish return to the same streams where they first spawned. ”– Jay Miller, Ph.D., Salmon, the LifeGiving Gift

Perhaps it is time to retell the story.

Mark Titus, Director of The Breach
Mark Titus, Director of The Breach

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.

“The deeper I got into making this film, the more I realized that consumers deserve and need to know where their salmon is from, and be aware of the threats to the future sustainability of our last wild salmon fisheries, like Bristol Bay.” – Mark Titus, Director, The Breach

Mark Titus, who spent time as a fishing guide in Alaska while studying and crafting his art as a director ask us question, “Do wild salmon have the chance of surviving us?”

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.

Elwa Glines Canyon
Elwa Glines Canyon

Man VS Nature

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.

In the space of two decades, dam removal has evolved from a novelty to an accepted means of river restoration. Most importantly, the concept has taken root in hundreds of local communities as residents rediscover their rivers, their history, and the potential not only to restore natural systems, but, in the process, to renew their communities as well.” – Bruce Babbit, former governor of Arizona from 1978 to 1987 and Secretary of the Interior from 1993 to 2001.
And what of mining?– Bruce Babbit, former governor of Arizona from 1978 to 1987 and Secretary of the Interior from 1993 to 2001

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.

“EPA Region 10 initiated a process to protect one of the world’s most valuable salmon fisheries, in Bristol Bay, Alaska, from the risks posed by a mine at the Pebble deposit. Development of this mine would result in one of the largest open pit copper mines in the world and would threaten one of the world’s most productive salmon fisheries.” -- United States Environment Protection Agency

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?

Accidents happen.

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.

Elwa River Cookout
Elwa River Cookout

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.


Read More About

Jay Miller, Salmon, the LifeGiving Gift

The Breach Film

The Elwa River Dam Removal Project

EPA and The Pebble Mine Project from the Washington Post

U. S. Environmental Protection Agency on Bristol Bay

EPA Animas Mine Spill

Bruce Babbit, The Dawn of Dam Removal

The Salmon Forest with Richard Nelson

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

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