We recently sat down with film-maker, Shane Anderson, to talk about his film “The Lost Salmon” and issues facing the incredible Spring Chinook. Shane’s film tells the story of Spring Chinook and how we are on the verge of losing them. Follow along to learn more about Shane Anderson, “The Lost Salmon,” and ways to save these incredible fish.
Flylords: Shane before we dive into the film, tell us a little bit about you, your background, etc..
Shane: I grew up in Olympia, Washington and was raised in a fishing family, my uncle is Kerry Burkheimer of CF Burkheimer Fly Rods, so fish and fishing have been a central part of my life and excitement.
I moved to Tahoe out of high school and became a professional skier at the beginning of the whole free skiing movement and didn’t fish for awhile until I broke my back at the 2000 X games. I then had two consecutive knee surgeries and ultimately ended up losing that career. The rivers called to me as a form a therapy and excitement in my life when I really needed it. I began making the annual pilgrimage to the Trinity and Klamath Rivers and caught the steelhead fever which eventually led to me going back to school at Humboldt State to study fisheries and then starting my film career with Wild Reverence: The Wild Steelheads Last Stand.
Flylords: How did “The Lost Salmon” come to be? Was there one moment, when you thought “I’m going to make a film about springers?”
Shane: I’ve always been fascinated with the genetic side of salmon and steelhead and the importance of preserving wild genetics that have evolved to specific landscapes. I didnt grow up fishing for springers like a lot of people here in the PNW but when I moved back to Washington State I started to re-explore the rivers on the Olympic Peninsula by snorkeling in the summer. I was shocked with how few springers and summer steelhead were left in these rivers despite pristine habitats. Fast forward about 10 years and Dr. Mike Miller was staying at my house during a symposium for a proposed dam on the Chehalis River, and he was presenting his research with his wife Dr. Tasha Thompson. After staying up late talking salmon genetics, I wanted to make a short film about it. I had no intention then of making a feature film over two years.
Flylords: What makes these spring Chinook so prolific and special?
Shane: Their evolutionary story and their incredible life histories and migration make them the king of all salmon. Sure, they are the best tasting salmon on earth due to their high fat content, but it’s their story and relationship to place that give them a special place in my heart. Most salmon return in the fall and can all overlap with each other with often very short migratory windows. The fact that springers spend up to six months in freshwater can really bring a river to life.
Flylords: Based on the film, it seemed like some of these populations are in a bit of a catch-22: genetic diversity will improve their resilience to climate change, but it is also causing fish to run at different times of the year with some devastating results. Care to expand on that?
Shane: Yeah, a prime example of anthropogenic effects changing genetic diversity and not in a good way. The way we have changed and re-engineered river systems has had devastating impacts genetically that we are just starting to learn more about with the discovery of the GREB 1L gene and how hybridization between spring and fall chinook is encouraging migrations in the summer which is the worst possible time for a salmon. The interbreeding of spring and fall-run fish is caused by changes in habitat which can include damming a river with no fish passage, changing hydrologic cycles of a river, changes in water temperatures from dams and the fish and wildlife agencies assault on waterfalls across salmon country. In the 1960’s Fish and Wildlife agencies in Washington, Oregon, California and other states had entire programs dedicated to the removal of waterfalls because they thought they blocked fish habitat, not knowing they were changing a very important separation barrier between fall and spring chinook. The fish evolved with waterfalls and ignorant good intentions altered millions of years of evolution. This is going to be hard and expensive to fix.
Flylords: You covered many different river systems/distinct populations–were there any that really stuck with you?
Shane: I think what stuck out was the diversity of challenges facing all these diverse populations. The issues were so different everywhere we went. Spending a few days with Russ Thurow in the headwaters of the Salmon River in Idaho was amazing. It was super powerful to see those fish they call “The Mariners and Mountaineers” that swim over 900 miles and climb 6,500 ft past eight dams two different times in their lives. Those fish have so many odds stacked against them, and yet they are still here and not extinct. The reason they are not extinct and have survived is because of their genetic diversity. If genetics are the instruction manual for a species, written over millions of years, then these fish have developed an encyclopedia of information which has kept them alive. But time is running out, and it was sobering to hear that they could be extirpated in four generations, if we don’t get those four lower Snake River dams breached.
Flylords: If you could sum it down to a sentence or two, how would you describe “The Lost Salmon?”
Shane: A cautionary tale of how tinkering with nature can have indirect effects even with the best of intentions.
Flylords: This is a topic that I’ve been thinking more and more about, but can you describe (briefly, because I know how complex it is) the impact of certain offshore fisheries on salmon and steelhead populations?
Shane: It’s a very complex topic and something that needs to be addressed immediately–especially mix-stock fisheries, where endangered stocks are swimming with non-endangered stocks. This is what is happening off the entire west coast but especially in SE Alaska, which is like a nursery ground for salmon and steelhead. This is where they go and do laps to forage and mature. These mixed stock fisheries are not only having impacts on numbers but also on the size of salmon by harvesting fish that are not fully mature. The result after a nearly a century of mixed sock fisheries is our salmon, on average, have shrunk, and we have literally lost entire age classes. The only path forward for sustainable commercial fisheries for species with locally adapted genetics like salmon, is to return to place-based fisheries like Indigenous people did for thousands of years.
An amazing tool for this type of sustainable fishing was developed by The Wild Fish Conservancy called a fish trap or pound net. They were able to create a 100% passive fishing tool that can release non-targeted species unharmed and harvest targeted species. Here is a video I did last year about it:
Once you loose that connection to place you loose that connection to protecting the species. I don’t see any of the commercial fleets advocating for dam removals, hatchery reform, or habitat restoration on our local rivers. They catch these fish far from home and have no connection to the place where the fish are from. 98% of the chinook harvested in SE Alaska are not from Alaska. Why don’t we have protected marine sanctuary nurseries for salmon? There are many freshwater rivers and creeks closed to fishing to protect the fish, but out in the open ocean they get no refuge. In some cases it could be as simple as the changing of a fishing season like the winter troll fishery in SE Alaska that intercepts a lof of our endangered stocks. Then there is the trawler bycatch issue which is the most maddening of all. NOAA allows chinook bycatch in the the neighborhood of 50k kings a year in each one of the fishery zones while these factory ships are targeting your pollock (aka your fillet-o fish sandwich or fish stick or imitation crab), while our most cherished species are allowed to be killed by the thousands and thrown overboard wasted.
Flylords: How can people watch the film and advocate for spring Chinook?
Shane: As far as the advocacy part goes, in general just watch out for public comment periods surrounding new Endangered Species Act listings. The Feds really need to incorporate this genetic information into policy and come up with a formal recovery plan. Another practical thing is to know where your salmon comes from that you consume, especially chinook and especially if that chinook is caught in the ocean and marketed wild. Until the commercial industry gets a better understanding of what it is catching and selling, I only eat chinook that I catch or I know where it came from. There’s plenty of hatchery chinook out there that need to be consumed and kept off the spawning grounds, so go eat them. Unfortunately they are branded as wild and thrown into the same category as our endangered wild stocks.
The film is now broadcasting on PBS across the country and streaming on the PBS passport app. If you want to watch it on the big screen, the film will continue to be screened at festivals this year including Wild and Scenic film fest. I will update on my IG @shaneandersonfilm and my website swiftwaterfilms.com.