Salmon Are Sacred



What does it mean when we say “salmon are sacred”?


Looking at a map of a human, one can show how food is consumed and then carried by the circulatory system to nourish all the cells of the body; the cells that move the body, the cells that sense and make sense of the world, the cells that contribute to reproduction so that life can be renewed and go on.





Looking at a map of the West Coast, one can show how the salmon in the ocean consume food and then carry it as they spawn through the river systems to nourish all the ‘cells’ of this part of the world; the humans, the otters, the eagles, the bears, the wolves, other fish, and the land itself, so that life can be renewed and go on.

If humans left this part of the world, from the Rockies to the coast, the salmon would carry on as they always have, bringing nourishment from the sea to the rivers, lakes, land and all the things that live in and on it. The cycle of the salmon would be as vital to this part of the world as it always has been.

When we say “salmon are sacred”, we are not making it so by our declaration. It is so, with or without us.

Right now the salmon are struggling. Cumulative effects of a range of human-caused stressors threaten the existence of many salmon runs. One thing we can do to help is to support the Spirit of Wild Salmon Gala, a dinner and silent auction being held Saturday, June 1 in Chilliwack.  Information and links to the Spirit of Wild Salmon Gala are available at


Image credits

Human body image

BC lakes map Created by Feydey and released under the GFDL. Underlying data © 2003. Government of Canada with permission from Natural Resources Canada and used under

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2 Comments on “Salmon Are Sacred”

  1. It’s important – and useful – to delineate salmon’s big-picture importance. Perhaps still missing here is the connection to “sacredness”, specifically.

    1. devoted or dedicated to a deity or to some religious purpose; consecrated.
    2. entitled to veneration or religious respect by association with divinity or divine things; holy.
    3. pertaining to or connected with religion ( opposed to secular or profane ): sacred music; sacred books.
    4. reverently dedicated to some person, purpose, or object: a morning hour sacred to study.
    5. regarded with reverence: the sacred memory of a dead hero.

    Would appear that the last definition applies best – but I’m ignorant of First Nations cultural and religious practices in this regard. Could you elaborate?


    • isjustian Says:

      @thorshammerbc These definitions of sacred refer to devotion, veneration, religion, reverence. All human constructs. Salmon are sacred by those definitions as evidenced by the origin stories of many First Peoples and the continued reverence for salmon by people native to these lands. My point here however is that salmon are sacred irrespective of human presence or human regard for salmon.

      It is the position of salmon as a keystone species in West Coast ecology that makes them sacred in my view. A century or so ago, Stó:lō (geographic, not people) salmon runs numbered some 60-million fish by some estimates. At 5 to 15 kg each that’s a lot of food and fertilizer, not to mention the large percentage of salmon that are consumed by predators before reaching spawning age.

      As an example, from the US;
      “We have estimated the historic biomass of salmon returning to the Pacific Northwest (Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and California) to be 160–226 million kg. The number of fish now returning to these rivers has a biomass of 11.8–13.7 million kg. These numbers indicate that just 6–7% of the marine-derived nitrogen and phosphorous once delivered to the rivers of the Pacific Northwest is currently reaching those streams”

      A variety of factors related to the pillage economy of modern times have contributed to the decline of wild salmon numbers and there is very real danger of extinction. Knowing as we do that human causes are behind the decline of salmon, and knowing the importance of salmon to everything from microbes in streamside soils and river bottoms to orcas, bears, wolves, eagles, heron, bass, pikeminnows, etc, etc… we have a responsiblity to fix this.

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