Kids gather for salmon science--and art--at the annual Salmon Camp.
People in Bristol Bay have one thing in common. It’s salmon.
Alaska’s Bristol Bay is home to 51 percent of the planet’s wild sockeye salmon. It’s a vast watery landscape where villages are linked not by roads but by rivers. People in Bristol Bay have one thing in common. It’s salmon.
In the region’s predominant Native language, Central Yup’ik, the word neqa means both “fish” and “food.” Families here catch salmon for their smokehouses. The archeological record shows salmon have provided for people in this place for thousands of years, or, as some say, since back “when time was thin.”
So it’s no wonder that when kids from this corner of Alaska go off to summer camp, they pile not into yellow buses but aluminum skiffs. Their destination? The rustic Salmon Camp on a remote shore of breathtaking Lake Aleknagik.
In many ways, life at Salmon Camp is the standard summer camp experience: s’mores over the campfire, kitchen patrol, and swimming in the lake. Yet because these youngsters live in magnificent Bristol Bay, where nature and everything else runs on wild salmon, this camp is all about salmon.
Salmon Camp, a program of the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp., a local fisheries group, with support from The Nature Conservancy and a range of salmon-minded partners, immerses middle school kids in an exploration of science, fun and art, with salmon always the focus. Why? In this generation of young people who’ve grown up in the salmon culture of Bristol Bay, there’s a crop of potential future fisheries biologists. In this way, local kids are preparing to serve as future caretakers of a shared resource.
At an early age Salmon Camp introduces young people to fisheries professionals and their work—a way to introduce career paths to curious-minded youth. Throughout the week, campers get salmon ecology lessons, they go fishing for salmon and trout, and they learn an art form that borrows from the Japanese tradition of gyotaku, or fish printing.
Salmon printmaking has caught on: dozens of sockeye salmon prints now grace the walls of offices and homes in the far-flung villages of Bristol Bay.