Scientists, chefs, fishermen, and local communities are now asking whether we should continue to eat salmon. With quantities at an all time low, and predators losing their direct food source, maybe we should start to rethink OUR sources of protein. The king salmon is Alaska’s native cultural symbol, and has high ranging economic importance. Unfortunately over the past few decades, the king population has plummeted, causing historic lows. Environmental pressures, such as climate change, and others like dams and pollution, the population has suffered significantly. Besides devastating drops in numbers, the size of the fish has decreased exponentially, no longer reaching their 70 pound potential. This is not only a crisis for the local fisherman in Alaska, and other corporations world wide, it’s a crisis for the orca population that inhabits the waters.

Outside the coast of Seattle, along the waters of the Puget Sound, 73 of the endangered orcas take their usual migration hunting path, using their primal clicking sound as an audible navigator. This ancient ritual has been a part of their routine for centuries, but now this rhythm has died out. Due to the loss in fish numbers, many whales have not been able to receive their needed level of food resources. Orcas are supposed to ingest around 325 pounds of fish a day, equaling out to at least 10 king salmon. But because of the decrease in fish size and quantity, this targeted number has drastically dropped.

“I have never seen such sustained interest and outrage from the people on the docks, the people in the supermarket, all the way up to the congressional delegation in Washington, D.C. It has not abated even a little bit. If anything, the cries are getting stronger,” stated Journalist Laine Welch. Welch has covered the Alaskan fishing industry for the last 25 years.

To the mammals' aid, The Wild Fish Conservancy, has placed a lawsuit upon Alaska’s largest king salmon fishery, one of the last remaining in the world, to shut down their operations. The environmental group argues that in order for the orca population to stabilize, humans need to halt their fishing consumption. In opposition, the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Alaska Trollers Association (the suit’s defendants) argue that shutting down the fishery would in fact have little impact on both the salmon and orca populations. Unfortunately for marine life, the opposition won a last minute reprieve that allowed Alaskan fisherman to begin fishing at the start of the season this July [2023]. The lawsuit is not finalized just yet, and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco will decide what happens next for both parties.

Alaskan king salmon now makes up only 1% of Alaska’s caught salmon. Last year [2022] red salmon brought in record catches, but traveling along the Yukon River the past few years there are no longer enough kings or chum salmon to sustain the Indigenous population—a population who have sustainably fished these species for thousands of years. Anxiety is high for the locals in Alaska, and hopefully the fight for these species continues on despite human and environmental pushback.