Teacher’s Guide for Salmon by Mark Kurlansky

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A Fish, the Earth, and the History of Their Common Fate

Teacher’s Guide 1by Chris Gilbert

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Introduction In Salmon: A Fish, the Earth, and the History of Their Common Fate, Mark Kurlansky invites the reader to learn about the history of salmon, their fascinating life cycle, their deep connectivity with the natural world, the many threats to their survival, and much more. As a classroom text, Salmon offers students invaluable learning opportunities, and beckons them to examine their relationships with nature. As you guide students through an exploration of Salmon, this teacher’s guide will serve as a helpful navigational companion. This guide features four sections: comprehension and discussion questions, thematic activities and research topics, miscellaneous activities, and a related resources section. Importantly, this guide has an interdisciplinary focus and features a range of questions and activities appropriate for use with students in a variety of educational settings, including high school and college classrooms. The activities and questions featured here can be easily modified and scaled, as they were constructed with flexibility in mind. Additionally, students are encouraged throughout to utilize technology and work together as they engage in a study of Kurlansky’s remarkable book. Hopefully, this guide will prove useful for you as you join your students in this enlightening exploration of salmon’s past, present, and future.


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Comprehension and Discussion Questions This section features a variety of questions for each of the book’s chapters. Some questions serve as comprehension questions while others inspire reflection and analysis.

Prologue: A Tale of Two Fisheries 1.

How does Kurlansky situate the reader in a specific time and place during this early section of the book?


What is “maximum sustainable yield,” and why is it such an important concept?


Why are conservationists “friendlier to sportsmen than commercial fisherman” (p. 18)?


Compare and contrast Ole and Thea. What similarities and differences do you note?


In what ways do “[s]almon have tremendous diversity” (p. 23)?


What are your thoughts on Kurlansky’s statement: “The lesson is that once we have altered the balance of nature, it is extremely difficult to get it right again” (p. 28)?


What, according to Kurlansky, is the principal point of this book? What is your reaction to this?


In what ways is the salmon a “barometer for the health of the planet” (p. 32)?


How is climate change impacting salmon? How does climate change’s impact on salmon point to the existence of a “food web”?


From an environmental perspective, how does the law of unintended consequences manifest? Think of some ways this law makes itself visible in the natural world around you.


On p. 35, Kurlansky includes a long list of actions that need to be pursued in order to save salmon. From your position as a concerned citizen, are you able to support any of these actions in your area? How can you get involved?


What is a descriptive passage from the prologue you particularly appreciate? Share it with others.


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Chapter One: A Family Matter 13.

How would you summarize the history of salmon?


What does it mean for a fish to be “anadromous”?


What do Sir Humphry Davy, Georg Wilhelm Steller, and Johann Julius Walbaum have to do with salmon?


What is the most valuable species of Pacific salmon?


In what ways does the rainbow trout change after inhabiting the sea?


What exactly “frustrates the entire notion of salmon versus trout” (p. 52)? Does this surprise you? Why? Why not?


According to Kurlansky, why have salmon developed into so many species?

20. What does it mean for a salmon to “stray”? How does this serve as a useful behavior? 21.

What are some ways our scientific understanding of salmon, and the related classification system, has changed over time?

22. What is one species of salmon mentioned in this chapter you find particularly interesting? Why? 23. After reading this chapter, what is one word you would use to describe salmon as a family? Why? 4

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Chapter Two: A Hero’s Life 24. While “[a]scribing human traits to a fish makes no more sense than ascribing fish traits to a human” (p. 58), given what you have learned thus far about salmon, which human traits would you ascribe to this fish? Why? 25. In what ways do salmon possess a destiny? 26. What serves as the “overwhelming cause of early salmon deaths” (p. 62)? What is your reaction to this? 27.

What does Kurlansky mean what he states, “Left to its own devices, nature works out a formula for survival” (p. 64)? What does he say is the exception? Does this surprise you? Why? Why not?

28. How do you react to the passage: “In a salmon, the urge to reproduce is far stronger than the urge to stay alive. As long as they can reproduce, they have no fear of death. It is their destiny and they swim toward it” (p. 67)? 29. According to Kurlansky, what characteristics does the ideal river for salmon possess? Have you ever encountered such a place? If so, where? 30. In what ways is a salmon “heroic” in death? In other words, how does a salmon’s death benefit the broader ecosystem? 31.

In what sense is the salmon’s life cycle, and eventual destination, “programmed”? What are some of the existing theories that attempt to explain this?

32. Kurlansky writes, “The words tenacity and obstinacy keep coming up in studies of salmon” (pp. 73–74). Why are these appropriate descriptors for salmon? Are there any other words you would add? Why? 33.

How would you describe the salmon’s spawning process?


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Chapter Three: The Original Salmon 34. What are some historical and cultural legends associated with salmon? Have you ever encountered these or other related legends? 35.

Were you surprised to learn that “Europe [once] had the greatest concentration of salmon rivers of any continent” (p. 89)? Why? Why not?

36. What is a “King’s gap” (p. 91), and how does it benefit salmon? 37.

Historically speaking, how was salmon an important fish for Great Britain?

38. What were some measures taken in England, Scotland, and Wales to protect salmon? 39. What, in nineteenth-century England, “spelled the death of British salmon” (p. 100)? How did threats that manifested then mirror threats to salmon that exist now? 40. What caused England to become “a nation of well-lighted homes and dead rivers” (p. 101)? Do you think the benefits outweighed the costs? Why? Why not? 41.

“Anyone could see, or smell, that rivers were now getting a lot more than they could handle. But that was considered the trade-off for modern progress, and manufacturing was making England the world’s leading economy” (pp. 101–102). What parallels can you identify between this passage and the conditions of the present?

42. Why did salmon do so well in Ireland? 43. What caused the European Atlantic salmon’s destruction? 44. Overall, how would you describe the effects of human behavior on salmon throughout Europe and Great Britain? What related lessons can be learned from the past? 6

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Chapter Four: Old Ways in the New Land 45. What sort of natural world did the first European visitors to North America find? Contrast this with the state of the natural world in present day North America. 46. What was the salmon population like during North America’s early days? 47. How did Native Americans’ spiritual views inform their treatment of salmon? How did the English view these beliefs? 48. What explains the disappearance of salmon from the Connecticut River? 49. “The Industrial Revolution was coming to New England, and the region would become the center of the textile industry” (p. 126). Why did this development have a negative effect on salmon? 50. “Impeding salmon was one thing, but no one wanted to impede progress” (p. 128). What do you think about the form of “progress” described in this section? Why is the natural world often negatively impacted in the name of “progress”? Is this sort of “progress” worth the environmental consequences? Why? Why not? 51.

Despite their celebrity status, what is the “darker side” of figures such as Paul Bunyan and William ‘Buffalo Bill’ Cody? Why do you think these “counternarratives” related to their history are seldom heard?

52. What does Kurlansky mean when he writes, “Lumber had the political clout, not fish” (p. 129)? Does this surprise you? Why? Why not? 53.

Why did Americans increasingly turn to Canada for their salmon?

54. Roosevelt’s New Deal, a federal program with a largely positive, historical connotation, had a negative impact on salmon. Why? 55.

Why did DDT have such a negative effect on salmon? What sort of regulations do you think should have been enacted to better control the effects of this chemical? What chemicals are you aware of today that pose a threat to salmon?

56. One of the central themes in this chapter is the negative impact of North American industry on the natural world, and by extension, salmon. What do you think industries mentioned in this chapter, such as the lumber industry, should have done differently to mitigate their negative environmental effects?


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Chapter Five: A Golden Fish Arrives in the East 57.

Where were the first salmon fishermen in the world possibly located?

58. Who were the Jomon? 59. Who were the Ainu? 60. What role does the salmon play in the mythology of Kamchatka’s indigenous people? 61.

In what ways did the search for salmon impact human migration?

62. What do you find particularly interesting in this chapter? Why?


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Chapter Six: When It Was Working 63. “To the Europeans, the virgin state [of the Earth] represented backwardness: clean and beautiful but undeveloped and therefore poor” (p. 152). What is this such a flawed view of the natural world? 64. “For all the pollution, denuded countryside, toxic rivers, and dead fish, the important goal had been achieved. And, therefore, the Europeans would not hesitate to do it again” (p. 152). Does achieving an economic/industrial goal represent progress if such achievement results in the destruction of the environment? Why? Why not? 65. Using details from this chapter, challenge these statements: “...the Indians had only primitive fishing skills and gear and so were not capable of harvesting large amounts of fish...this posed no great problem for them since they were only subsistence fishermen, catching just enough to feed themselves” (p. 152). 66. Where is the largest temperate rain forest on the planet located? 67. How would you describe Native Americans’ relationship with the rain forest? 68. What sort of lessons pertaining to salmon were embedded in the mythical stories told by Native Americans? What do you think about these lessons? 69. What was the significance of salmon-eating rituals for the Native American people? Are there salmon-related rituals that you practice in your own culture? If so, share them. 70. What is an “escapement,” and how does it promote sustainability? 71.

“The European Americans chose between protecting nature or developing the land. The Native Americans had to make no such choice because the idea of two separate worlds, one natural and one man-made did not exist for them” (p. 162). Which perspective do you more strongly identify with, that of the European Americans or the Native Americans? Why?

72. What was the secret of Native Americans’ successful fishery management? What can others learn from them?


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Chapter Seven: The White Man Comes 73.

What was the significance of salmon in the context of Lewis and Clark’s expedition?


What was “pemmican,” and why was it important to the people living along the Columbia River?


How would you describe the relationship between the Native Americans and the early, white explorers? How did salmon bring these two groups of people together?

76. What was the “fatal error” (p. 174) the Native Americans made in regard to their relationship with European Americans? Does this surprise you? Why? Why not? 77.

How did the practice of mining affect rivers, and by extension, salmon?

78. What contributed to the development of the salmon-export business? 79. What was Nicolas Appert’s incredible invention? How did Peter Durand build on it? 80. Why were the Chinese so commonly employed in the canneries? How do you react to this? 81.

Who was Isaac Ingalls Stevens, and what was his mission? What were the human and environmental costs of this mission?

82. Why was US officials’ “insistence on Indians being farmers and not fishermen” (p. 190) such a profoundly flawed approach? 83. In what ways does this chapter illustrate the dangers of Eurocentrism and cultural colonialism? What were the consequences for the Native American people? What were the environmental consequences? 84. What is one thing you learned from this chapter that you find particularly interesting? Share this with others.


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Chapter Eight: Nowhere to Run 85.

“The Europeans and European Americans surveyed the landscape of North America and saw commodities. Forests were timber that could be sold. The animals that lived there had thick and valuable fur that could be sold” (p. 194). How would you compare this view of nature with the environmental perspectives of indigenous peoples described in earlier chapters?

86. Why were policies enacted to prevent the dumping of sawdust into rivers? 87.

How did the removal of old-growth forests impact salmon rivers? What do you think should be done to prevent the removal of these forests?

88. What are the dangers of irrigation as related to salmon rivers? 89. Despite their persistence in the face of mining, farming, irrigation, and logging, what appeared as an insurmountable obstacle for salmon? 90. “Taking a long historical view, it can be demonstrated that protecting the environment guarantees jobs and that destructive practices cost them” (p. 198). Why do you think this “long historical view” has not become a more widely embraced perspective? 91.

In addition to destroying salmon runs, how else have dams negatively impacted the Pacific Northwest? Does this surprise you? Why? Why not?

92. What sort of rebuttal would you offer to the argument that “dams produced the cleanest energy available” (p. 202)? What sort of environmental consequences does this statement omit? 93. “Searching for environmentally friendly alternative energy often neglects the environmentally friendly alternative of consuming less energy, which could lead to completely rethinking economic development” (p. 203). How do you react to this statement? Share your reaction with others.


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Chapter Nine: Why Not Make More? 94. “The world, we are told, was made especially for man—a presumption not supported by all the facts” (p. 207). How do you react to this opening quote from John Muir? In what ways does it frame the chapter? 95. Who created the world’s first fish hatchery? How? 96. Who were Joseph Remy and Antoine Gehin, and why were they important? 97.

“What a new world this was. Catch all the fish, make some more, put them in the rivers, and catch them too. This was a limitless supply” (p. 210). In what ways is this overly optimistic assessment flawed?

98. “By the late nineteenth century, it was widely believed that hatcheries were the solution for declining fish stocks, and that humans had learned how to improve on nature—a concept much in keeping with the age of the Industrial Revolution” (p. 214). How does this notion of improving upon nature reflect the impulses of the Industrial Revolution? In what ways is this notion flawed, and even dangerous? 99. What is the “most essential problem in declining salmon stocks” (p. 215) that hatcheries fail to address? How should this problem be tackled? 100. In what ways have fish hatcheries aided the recreational fisherman? What are your thoughts on this? 101. How do hatcheries affect the genetic diversity of salmon, and why does this matter? 102. What is “carrying capacity,” and what does it have to do with hatcheries? 103. What especially strikes you from this chapter’s examination of hatcheries? What are your overall thoughts on the use of salmon hatcheries and their related strengths and weaknesses? 12

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Chapter Ten: Sea Cattle 104. How do hatcheries and fish farms differ? 105. Which is more available: wild or farmed salmon? Which do you more frequently encounter during your trips to the market? 106. Where did modern salmon farming begin? 107. Why is animal waste such a huge problem in the context of fish farming? What is a solution to this problem? 108. Why are salmon that escape from fish farms such a problem? Does this surprise you? Why? Why not? 109. Why are sea lice such a problem in salmon farms? Additionally, how do solutions to this problem actually create more problems? 110. What are some of the issues created by moving salmon farms to inland locations? Should these farms be moved inland? Why? Why not? 111. Why is feeding farmed fish fishmeal problematic? 112. What substance gives salmon their color? 113. Where do you stand on the US Food and Drug Administration’s ruling that “genetically engineered salmon was fit for human consumption” (p. 259)? Relatedly, what do you think about the ruling that genetically engineered salmon do not have to be labeled as such? 114. What are some larger ideas/themes present in this chapter?

Chapter Eleven: The Release 115. According to Kurlansky, why does antipathy exist between recreational and commercial fishermen? 116. “Increasingly, sportfishermen are being convinced to not even keep the fish they catch, popularly known as ‘catch-and-release.’ Why not? The point is not to acquire a fish to eat but just to test your skills in catching one” (p. 264). What are your thoughts about this form of fishing? Do you think this practice, as the Native Americans perceived it, is disrespectful? 117. Who is responsible for catching more Atlantic salmon: recreational or commercial fishermen? Does the answer surprise you? Why? Why not? 118. How have fishing flies and fly-fishing tackle changed over time? 119. What is “harling,” and where was it practiced?


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120. What explained the delayed popularity of fly fishing in the United States? 121. What was the “invention that revolutionized fly fishing [and] suddenly made Americans major players” (p. 285)? What are your thoughts on this? 122. “In states such as Oregon and Washington some of the loudest voices arguing for saving salmon runs were urban fly fishermen” (p. 287). Does this surprise you? Why? Why not? Connecting this passage to the present day, in what ways have fishermen advocated for the protection of the natural world? 123. In what ways has fly fishing contributed to the development of a fishing economy? 124. While the introduction of salmon and trout to areas in the Southern Hemisphere has been beneficial from a financial perspective, how has it negatively impacted the environment? 125. Do you have any experience with recreational fishing, fly fishing or otherwise? If so, how does your experience connect with the related discussion in this chapter?


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Chapter Twelve: Elegy for the Atlantic 126. How many Atlantic salmon are left in the world? What makes this number significant? 127. Who was Orri Vigfusson, and what did he accomplish for salmon? 128. What does climate change have to do with the declining marine survival rate of both Atlantic and Pacific salmon? Does this surprise you? Why? Why not? How should this problem be addressed? 129. What has Norway done to preserve its declining salmon population? What lessons can be taken from their efforts? 130. What are “pinks”? Why is their appearance in the rivers of Norway, England, and Scotland problematic? 131. In Great Britain, are salmon available for consumption predominantly wild or farmed? Why? 132. How have the Scottish Highlands changed over the centuries? How has the changing landscape affected rivers, and by extension, salmon? What sort of related changes to landscapes and rivers have you noticed where you are? 133. Why has the River Dee become warmer, and how has this affected salmon? 134. “The British government wants to reduce river damming, but hydroelectricity remains part of their energy planning. The government receives thirty to forty applications for new hydroelectric projects every year” (p. 315). Considering the negative effects of dams on the salmon population, how do you think the British government should respond? Why? 135. Why is the story of the Connecticut River so heartbreaking? 136. In what ways is the story of the Penobscot River Restoration Project a hopeful one? 137. In terms of protecting Atlantic salmon, what are the Canadians doing right? What lessons can we learn from them?


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Chapter Thirteen: The Ballad of the Pacific 138. What is your reaction to the horrible treatment of Native Americans described in the opening section of this chapter? How did Native Americans resist efforts to remove their access to land and rivers? What would you have done? 139. What was “The Boldt Decision,” and why was it important? 140. For the Lummi people, what is the larger significance of reefnetting? What reaction do you have to this? 141. How are companies such as Amazon, Google, and Microsoft connected to the Columbia River, and by extension, the salmon that inhabit it? Do you find this connection to be surprising? Why? Why not? 142. What is “trucking”? Relatedly, what is a fish cannon? What purpose do these things share? 143. Why do locals often oppose dam removal? What are your thoughts on their objections? Can you see validity in their perspectives, or do you believe they are mistaken? Explain your viewpoint. 144. In relation to the restoration of the Pacific Northwest, why does dam removal only represent the beginning?


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145. What is an engineered log jam? What is its purpose? 146. Why are salmon doing so well in Alaska? What lessons can others take from the Alaskan people? 147. How would you characterize the state of salmon in the Pacific Northwest? How do you compare this with their status in other areas of the world? How are salmon doing in the waters where you are? 148. There are a number of recipes listed in this chapter. What sounds particularly good to you? Is there something you would like to try in your own kitchen?

Chapter Fourteen: The Golden Fish Departs 149. What parallels exist between the state of salmon in the Pacific Northwest and in Japan? 150. What challenges do salmon face in Japan? How do you think these challenges should be addressed? 151. What type of salmon do the Japanese increasingly rely on? 152. Why are the rivers of Kamchatka so favorable to salmon? Why is the shrinking human population in the area a good thing for salmon? What larger point is made here about the relationship between salmon and humans? 153. What are fermentation pits? 154. “[T]he real question today is whether this pristine peninsula can, like Alaska, keep oil, gas, and mineral interests at bay and avoid going the way of Europe” (pp. 364–365). How would you answer this question? Do you feel hopeful? Why? Why not? 155. In what ways are stories of commercial fishing reminiscent of Alexander Pushkin’s famous tale about the fisherman? 156. What is the biggest problem in regulating the Kamchatka fishing industry? Why is this such a significant problem? How do you think it should be addressed? 157. What is one passage that particularly strikes you from this chapter? Why? Share your thoughts with others.


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Epilogue: It Concerns Us 158. How does Kurlansky relate the second law of thermodynamics to human development and its associated consequences? What is your reaction to this connection? 159. What is the relationship between the condition of the environment and the degree of human prosperity? What are your larger thoughts on this relationship? 160. Why is placing our faith in “the magic well” a poor choice? 161. Do you agree or disagree with Kurlansky’s assertion that if humans colonized other planets, “they would carry with them the old ideas of economic development and destroy other planets one by one” (p. 375)? Explain your reasoning. 162. In what ways does the loss of salmon create a sort of environmental domino effect? How do you react to this? 163. “Reaching the historic levels of the past—though they may exist only in legend, books, and documents—has to be the goal” (p. 376). Why is this such an important goal? How can you support the realization of this goal? What behaviors can you adopt or change? 164. What is one powerful lesson you will take from this book? Share this with others.


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Thematic Activities and Research Topics This section features a number of activities and research topics related to two of the book’s central themes. For each research topic, students could: • Write a research paper • Build a website. Free resources for this include www.weebly.com, www.wix.com, and spark.adobe.com • Deliver a presentation. Free resources for this include slides.google.com and www.prezi.com

Theme: The Interconnectedness of the Natural World Nature Blog “The species and genera and families-—even the kingdoms—are so intertwined that they depend on one another, and when one is gone, many feel that loss. It is why we no longer talk of the ‘food chain’ but of the ‘food web’” (p. 34). In Salmon, Kurlansky touches repeatedly on the idea that the natural world consists of species and habitats that are inextricably connected. Have your students use this blog-writing activity to help strengthen their understanding of nature’s interconnectedness. To begin, have your students locate a safe, natural setting that is unscathed by human activity, and instruct them to spend some time in this location and answer the questions below in writing while they are there. Additionally, instruct students to take several pictures and/or video of their selected natural setting. 1.

Where are you?


What do you notice about your surroundings? What do your senses reveal?


What living things do you notice?


What sort of relationships do you notice between the species you observe and the natural area they inhabit? In what ways are these living things interconnected?


How would the removal of one species affect others in your selected location?

Next, have each student create a blog by using a free resource such as http://blogger.google.com or http://www.wordpress.com. On the blog, have students import their writing and associated


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media. After their blogs are finished, have students share their blog addresses with their classmates and encourage them to comment on each other’s work. Also, promote their material to the larger community by posting links to their blogs on your school’s website.

Species Map: “What does it mean to lose a species that is intimately engaged in the life cycle of tiny insects like a stonefly and large mammals like a brown bear or a sea lion and a wide variety of birds—eagles, herons, cormorants, mergansers? How many species do we lose when we lose a salmon?” (p. 375). Through this activity, invite your students to explore the many species that intersect with salmon. To begin, ask students to select a specific location. Next, students should identify and research the species that are interconnected with salmon in this location. Following Kurlansky’s thread in the quote above, ask students to consider a variety of species found in land, air, and water. Next, have students visually depict these connections through the creation of a visual map. For this part of the activity, students could use resources such as https://www.visme.co/concept-map-maker/ or https://www.canva.com/graphs/concept-maps/. Finally, ask students to present their work and explain how the loss of salmon would affect other species in this particular habitat.


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Theme-Related Research Topics 6.

“The great mystery of salmon is the return to the place of birth. The salmon not only finds that river after traveling thousands of miles away, but it returns to the very same stretch of gravel in that same crook in the same stream where it was born some years before” (p. 69). It is clear that salmon are inextricably connected to their place of birth, but we do not entirely understand how returning salmon locate it. Ask your students to perform research on this natural mystery. What theories have been advanced to explain it? Which theories do your students reject? Which theories do they support? Why?


“Species in California, Oregon, and Washington figure prominently on lists of endangered and declining insects. Many of these insects—such as stoneflies—which are vanishing along with wild riverbanks—are prime food for salmon and trout” (p. 340). Insects are undoubtedly an important food source for salmon. Ask your students to perform research to learn more about a specific insect, such as the stonefly, that salmon consume. What is the history of this insect? Where is it located? What threatens its existence? How would its extinction affect salmon?


“These trees provided nutrients for the river: leaves, needles, and shedding bark that the river now lacks. As previously mentioned, forested banks made the river narrow and deep. Now in the deforested areas the river is wide and shallow. Salmon like narrow, deep rivers” (p. 309). Ask your students to perform research to learn more about the importance of forests to salmon. Why do forests matter? Why is deforestation such a threat? How can deforestation be slowed? Your students could even select a specific location and research the relationship between the trees, the river, and the salmon that inhabit it.


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Theme: The Cost of “Progress” -- The Effects of Human Behavior on Salmon and the Natural World Think-Pair-Share Activity: “From the outset, human beings have had largely the same concept of economic development: dominate and tame nature. Nature is the seemingly useless raw material that we can transform in order to build a comfortable, orderly, and prosperous life” (p. 374). One of the central threads in the book is the idea that our species’ concept of economic development, one that requires continual extraction and consumption, has distorted our view of, and relationship with, the natural world. Invite your students to explore this idea through this thinkpair-share activity. To begin, ask your students to individually respond in writing to the following questions (you might even share the quote above first to frame the activity): 9.

How does our species’ dominant concept of economic development create conflict with, and cause the destruction of, the natural world?


What sort of economic system, if any, could exist in harmony with nature?

Next, ask students to pair up and share their thoughts with each other. They could just share their general thoughts on the questions, or you could have them trade their writing with each other. Finally, transition to a whole class discussion and invite all students to share their thoughts within the context of the larger group. Encourage students to build on each other’s responses and to ask questions of each other.

Assess and Address Human Population Growth: “The human population is expected to experience tremendous growth in the next fifty or one hundred years and this, too, bodes badly for salmon...The United Nations estimates that in the year 2100, the number of people on Earth will have increased to 11.2 billion—all demanding space and food” (p. 375). From a sustainability perspective, and as the above quote makes clear, our planet faces a human overpopulation problem. This not only creates tremendous problems for salmon, but it also


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negatively impacts many other species. Ask students to critically assess and address this problem through their participation in this activity. To begin, if your classroom is equipped with a whiteboard, write the following two questions on it (you could also do the same thing online through the use of a shared Google Document): 11.

What dangers does human population growth create for salmon and other wildlife?


What solutions should be adopted to address this problem? (If students seem stumped by this question, you could prompt them by asking them to consider human population-control measures, for example.)

Next, invite students to respond in two rounds. For round one, provide students with markers and invite them to come to the board and record their thoughts under each question. Following this, for round two, have students return to the board and record agreements, disagreements, and/or questions in relation to their classmates’ initial responses (you can adopt the same approach if students are interacting online through a Google Document). Finally, transition to a whole-class conversation. During this discussion, reference students’ responses on the board and challenge your class to deepen their thinking as it relates to both assessing and addressing the human overpopulation problem.

Belief System Comparison: “The European Americans chose between protecting nature or developing the land. The Native Americans had to make no such choice because the idea of two separate worlds, one natural and one man-made, did not exist for them. Many North American languages do not even have a word for nature. There is no separate thing called nature; there is simply the world” (pp. 162–163). Through this activity, invite your students to compare two different cultures, and their beliefs regarding nature, mentioned in Salmon. To begin, have students from groups of two or three. Next, ask your students to select two historical or contemporary groups of people mentioned in Salmon (for example, Native Americans, European Americans, Alaskans, etc.). After they have made their selections, ask students to utilize Salmon and other resources to perform research on each group’s belief systems regarding nature. Some questions to guide your students’ research efforts include:


S A L M O N : A F I S H , T H E E A R T H , A N D T H E H I S T O R Y O F T H E I R C O M M O N F AT E


How do your selected groups perceive the relationship between human beings and the natural world?


Where does each group stand in terms of their perspectives on sustainability and protecting the natural world?

As students locate their findings, ask them to compare and contrast the two groups by identifying similarities and differences. You might even ask students to display their findings in a Venn diagram. Finally, ask students to share their conclusions with the class, and ask them what lessons, if any, they believe should be taken from the cultures they researched. You might extend the activity by asking students to compare their findings with how many Americans currently perceive the environment (e.g., as something to be extracted and consumed).


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Theme-Related Research Topics 15.

“This romance with the tough, brave men who destroyed the environment is a common feature in American culture—the lumberjacks, cattle drivers, and oil men who ‘tamed’ the country. Paul Bunyan...traveled all over the United States leaving piles of lumber so high they were mistaken for mountain ranges. Even more famous was William ‘Buffalo Bill’ Cody, a real person who became an international celebrity based on the claim that he had killed 4,000 American bison” (p. 128). Invite your students to select a figure such as Paul Bunyan, William “Buffalo Bill” Cody, or another “hero” from American history and perform research on him or her. The goal of students’ research should be to identify the counter-histories, as related to their chosen figure’s treatment of the environment, that remain largely unheard. What sort of environmental destruction did this person cause? In what ways do dominant myths omit this history? Why? What do the popular stories we hear regarding these figures reveal about our society’s values and perspectives as related to the environment?


“So tough and resilient is the salmon that though their numbers have declined, they might have withstood it all—the mining, the farming, the irrigation, the logging, even the shortsighted greed and waste of canneries. But it is a straightforward principle that if you erect a concrete wall hundreds of feet high across a river so that nothing can go below it or above it, salmon will not be able to spawn and their young won’t be able to go to sea. The salmon run in that river or tributary is over” (p. 197). Invite your students to learn more about dams and their effects on salmon and other wildlife through this research activity. Ask students to select a specific dam to research (this could be a dam located in your state or elsewhere). They should uncover the environmentally related story of the dam by researching its history, its impacts on salmon and other wildlife, and by addressing the larger problems the dam has created for the environment. Based on their findings, have students decide whether the dam should or should not be removed.


“Farmed is taking over, but not everyone sees that as a negative development. If consumers are content with eating farmed salmon, that takes a great deal of pressure off of the threatened wild stocks. This perception, however, minimizes the problem and disincentivizes implementing solutions” (p. 244). Invite your students to learn more about the debate surrounding salmon farming through this research activity. Ask students to perform research to explore arguments both for and against salmon farming. What do supporters argue are the main benefits of salmon farming? What do opponents claim are the environmental conse-


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quences of salmon farming? After students research and learn about both sides, ask them to pick a side in the debate and share their reasoning. For this research topic, ask students to consult Salmon and several additional sources. 18.

Despite the many negative impacts of human behavior on salmon, there have been some positive results of human intervention. Have your students explore some of these positive developments through this research activity. Ask students to identify and research an environmental victory that has significantly benefited salmon. This could be a piece of legislation; a dam that was removed; a river that was restored; or something else entirely. Ask students to identify the principal actors and/or groups involved in the effort and to thoroughly explain the outcomes of the positive intervention. Ask them to also consider ways this victory could be emulated elsewhere.


“It is expected that climate change will greatly alter the life cycle of salmon: their time spent in rivers, time spent at sea, and growth rates. But no one is certain exactly what the consequences of these changes will be� (p. 33). Ask your students to perform research to explore the effects of climate change on salmon. How has climate change, thus far, affected salmon? How could climate change affect salmon in the future? How could climate change’s effects on salmon subsequently affect other species? This research topic will force students to not only evaluate existing research but to also make educated predictions regarding future consequences.


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Miscellaneous Activities This section features several non-thematic activities.


Kurlansky frames each chapter of Salmon with a fascinating quote. For this activity, ask students to choose a chapter and analyze the significance of the framing quote in relation to the content that follows it. What sort of reading expectation does the quote provide to the reader? In general, how does the quote connect with the content of the chapter? In addition to considering these questions, have students locate several passages from the chapter that they believe deeply connect with the opening quote. Ask them to share their connections with the class.


Salmon is packed full of stunning images. Ask students to select one or two images from the book and respond to the following questions through writing: — What particularly strikes you about your selected image(s)? — What sort of emotional reaction do you have to the image(s)? — What passages from the text connect with your selected image(s)? Identify two or three. After students respond to these questions, have them pair up and share their written responses with each other.


In many ways, Salmon serves as a call to action. Ask students, in small groups, to brainstorm ways they could serve as advocates for salmon and the natural world. What forms of environmental activism could they take up? If students struggle to identify forms of action they could pursue, provide them with a few suggestions such as writing an op-ed for a local newspaper, fundraising for an environmental organization, educating the public through the creation and dissemination of digital content, etc. After students brainstorm a list of potential actions, have them choose one to pursue in their group.


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Related Resources These resources relate to Salmon’s themes and subjects.

Books Stronghold: One Man’s Quest to Save the World’s Wild Salmon By Tucker Malarkey The Salmon: The Extraordinary Story of the King of Fish By Michael Wigan The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History By Elizabeth Kolbert

Films Artifishal: The Fight to Save Wild Salmon https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XdNJ0JAwT7I DamNation: The Problem with Hydropower https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=laTIbNVDQN8

Online Resources An interview with Mark Kurlansky https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JYEzK13_-xg Q&A with Mark Kurlansky https://www.wbur.org/earthwhile/2020/03/04/mark-kurlansky-salmon-new-england Mark Kurlansky’s website http://www.markkurlansky.com/


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About The Author Of This Guide Chris Gilbert is a former high school English teacher and current college instructor who lives in the mountains of North Carolina. He is also an avid writer. His work has appeared in The Washington Post’s education blog, “The Answer Sheet,” NCTE’s (National Council of Teachers of English) English Journal, Kappa Delta Pi’s The Educational Forum, and Critical Studies in Education. He has also written a number of educational guides for Penguin Random House and Patagonia.


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