Dialogues and Backdrops: Seeking Sustainable Salmon Systems

(April 2018, Southeast Alaska) It’s low tide in Petersburg and early spring migrants have just arrived–tiny yellow-rumped warblers that search the seaweed for invertebrates. Normally birds of the forest, it’s still too chilly for their mainstay diet, land-based insects.

It’s the sea that provides for them now, as it has for the Tlingit for thousands of years, for Norwegian settlers a century ago, and for the fishers, shrimpers, crabbers, and packers who’ve since made this dramatic and remote location their home.


The turn of the 20th century brought canneries to Petersburg, where fresh salmon could be packed in ice from nearby LeConte Glacier.


Nestled among white-capped mountains and the remnants of glaciers, Petersburg represents a microcosm of the issues affecting the sustainability of fishing communities across Alaska: changing ocean conditions, including warming and acidification, aging of the fishing fleet, loss of local permits, and the pervading inequities that underlie much of Alaska’s fishery policies.


Today Petersburg boasts three harbors and a world-renowned fishing fleet.


A unique group of Alaskans–the Alaska Salmon Fellows–has also just arrived in Petersburg to participate in the first of a year-long series of intense discussions aimed at understanding and addressing the difficult issues vital to the sustainability of salmon and the people that depend on them.

Selected for recognized leadership in their work and communities, the Fellows will play a significant role as part of a statewide network working to collaboratively bring about a sea change towards equitable and sustainable Alaska salmon and people systems.


Each cohort of Fellows is comprised of 16 men and women–commercial, sports, and subsistence fishers; policy, management, and industry leaders; activists and artists; researchers and culture bearers.


The Fellows bring differing perspectives and worldviews to the table, but also a willingness to learn from others and to challenge their own assumptions. By working together across these differences, the Salmon Fellows can begin to shape innovative ideas for strengthening salmon communities across Alaska.

The Alaska Humanities Forum, in partnership with Nautilus and other organizations, designed the Salmon Fellows program with the goal to spur novel solutions for creating equity through dialog, as well as through development and implementation of projects that tangibly benefit and sustain Alaska’s salmon and people systems. To learn more, visit the Alaska Humanities Forum website, www.akhf.org.

Facilitated, demanding conversations–amid inspiring and meaningful backdrops–are central to the Salmon Fellows process.


The Fellows brainstorm ideas on barriers to healthy salmon – people systems, filling nine windows with sticky notes.


Inspiring personal stories and videos can be found on the Salmon Fellows website: www.akhf.org/fellows


Petersburg was the perfect setting to welcome 2018 cohort of Salmon Fellows–remote, inspiring, salmon-centered, and a constant reminder of what is at stake for Alaskan salmon communities.

Petersburg images: Mike Colvin