[VIEWPOINT]Spawning runs and societyThe Canadian province of British Columbia has a forest made up mostly of pines, and so the enchanting view of red leaves that we see in Korea is not to be seen here, even in the fall. Instead, a different kind of splendor can be appreciated in the rivers and streams running through the forest. The salmon spawning runs are magnificent.
Salmon are a symbol of healthy life and happiness. A salmon battling its way against the current toward the upper waters is itself one of the most marvelous expressions of life. For this reason, the spawning runs of salmon give an onlooker the feeling of being alive and is a reminder of the joy of life. It is also no coincidence that the salmon run was a symbol of happiness to the natives, whose diet was based on that fish.
Salmon are not satisfied with the shallow fresh water they are born in, and live adventurous lives by going out into the sea far away, nearly crossing the Pacific Ocean, and finally coming back. They go out to a sea full of predators hundreds of times their size when they are barely grown, just the size of a man’s thumb when they leave fresh water.
Salmon have developed good environmental adjustment techniques in order to survive in dangerous environments, and their strategy for breeding is an example that shows off their technique well. The chance that a spawned egg will hatch into a salmon, go out to sea, and come back to its home waters to spawn again is very low, around one chance in 3,000. It is because of these low survival odds that the female salmon spawns more than 3,000 eggs at once, hoping for a successful few. In addition, salmon do not make the mistake of going out to sea and coming back again together. Instead, they spread out the spawning runs over a period of three to four years, in preparation for any natural disasters that may affect their home waters. If, for example, the spawning waters were destroyed by a volcanic eruption or a landslide, although the salmon would fail in spawning that year, the rest of the salmon could go back the next year to try again. It is a safety system to preserve their species and keep the cycle going.
But even these environmentally well-adjusted salmon are facing a threat of extinction in many North American spawning rivers. According to American Indians who live on the Canadian coast, at the time of their grandfathers there were so many salmon dead after spawning that a person could cross the river without even wetting his shoes. Stories like this now remain only as legends, like the story of tigers that once lived in the woods of Mount Inwang in Seoul. A mere 20 years ago, the catch of salmon here relied totally on wild fish, but now more than half of the catch is from farmed salmon. Along the Atlantic coast of North America, the problem has now come to the point of designating salmon as an endangered species to provide legal protection.
The biggest reason why salmon are disappearing is because their habitat in the spawning streams is continually being destroyed. Cutting down forests around the streams, water contamination through urbanization or industrialization, the construction of dams, and straightening the course of rivers, causing rapids and swamps to disappear, are the main factors. Fast and extreme change that does not allow time for adjustment is too much even for the environmentally well-adjusted salmon.
The reality that we humans face is not all that different from the reality of salmon. Today we are living in an environmentally dangerous reality of changing climates, water shortages, extinction of species and pollution of potable water as well as air. The forests, rivers, tidal seabeds and seas around us are like the home waters of the salmon. They are essential factors for managing a healthy and happy life. If the forests, rivers, tidal seabeds and seas around us disappear or are polluted, the health and happiness of our society will no longer be guaranteed. The effort to bring back salmon to the rivers has to be made, not to allow fishermen to get a better catch, but to regain the health and happiness of our society.
* The writer is a Korean- Canadian ecologist. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Tak Kwang-il