Salmon culture, culturing salmon, and enculturation.

In some ways we can see the power of salmon culture in the conclusion to Alexandra Morton’s “Get out Migration” walk along Vancouver Island to protest open-net salmon farming. On Saturday the walk concluded in Victoria, the capital city of British Columbia. Estimates suggest about 4,000 people attended the conclusion to the 500-km walk, with over 8,000 signatures collected on a petition to the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans to move salmon farming to land-based closed contained systems to protect wild salmon from sea lice and various diseases.

With some irony, it is the ability to culture salmon that has led to salmon farming practices. Furthermore, culturing salmon in hatcheries has been done in North America since the 1800s; and it has now become huge business with over 5-billion baby salmon pumped into the North Pacific every year from hatchery operations around the Pacific Rim. Almost all of these started with the goal of increasing harvests…

This past week at the State of the Salmon 2010 Conference: Ecological Interactions of between Wild & Hatchery Salmon in Portland, Oregon — culturing salmon in hatcheries was the topic of discussion.

The purpose of the conference was to bring an international crowd together to discuss potential interactions, and as suggested in the welcome letter in the conference program:

…step back and critically review what we know about the scale and magnitude of interactions between  wild and hatchery salmon…

Curiously though, an article came out in the Seattle Times on May 5th, the second day of the conference, discussing the gathering.

Oregon conference discusses protecting wild salmon

An international conference of scientists and fisheries managers meeting in Portland this week is looking at less-studied impacts of hatchery fish on wild salmon — disease, predation and competition for food — and how to overhaul a hatchery system that may hurt wild salmon more than it helps.

The article has a “hatcheries-are-bad” slant, which was certainly not the consensus at the conference. Here are some competing messages that I heard sitting in on various sessions:

  1. A Japanese scientist pointed out that hatchery salmon are a very important source of healthy seafood. (Somewhere between 90-95% of Japanese commercially caught salmon are from hatchery and salmon ranching efforts).
  2. The Russian government is sitting on over $2 billion ready to invest in substantially expanding hatchery operations in Russian portions of the North Pacific coast.
  3. Alaska takes a lot of pride in their over 2 billion baby salmon pumped into the North Pacific and places like Prince William Sound where 90-95% of the commercial catch is salmon ranching efforts. In Southeast Alaska, goals for spawning salmon are easily reached in most streams and yet large salmon hatchery and ranching operations continue.
  4. Canada is ramping down hatchery operations in many areas. (however, I know of several sport fishing proponents that would like to see hatchery operations ramped up significantly).
  5. Western U.S. states — Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and California — are having raging debates about ramping down or ramping up. “Conservation” hatcheries are apparently important components of trying to protect salmon runs listed under the Endangered Species Act. Representatives of tribal organizations highlighted the importance of hatchery operations to keeping salmon returning to their areas.

And, thus, some rather interesting discussions in various sessions. One principle hard at work was enculturation from the variety of cultures represented at the conference — from various countries’ cultures to regional cultures and differences (e.g. Alaska compared to lower 48).

Enculturation is defined as:

the process by which an individual learns the traditional content of a culture and assimilates its practices and values.

Jonah Lehrer is a Rhodes scholar, contributing editor for Wired magazine, wrote the book Proust was a Neuroscientist, has a blog — Frontal Cortex — as part of scienceblogs.com (thanks for the forward Simon). He has a great post: Enculturation and Wall Street — the post starts:

The process of enculturation doesn’t just afflict middle-aged scientists, struggling to appreciate a new anomaly. It’s a problem for any collection of experts, from CIA analysts to Wall Street bankers.

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