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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Yukon Kings

Yukon Kings, 2013
no copyright infringement intended

The Yukon River draws into its mouth the largest migration of chinook, chum, and coho salmon stocks in the world. For the chinook, or kings, the river offers passage from the Bering Sea to spawning streams across Alaska and Yukon Territory all the way to British Columbia. The iconic fish run is one of the longest freshwater fish migrations on earth. Because the kings will not feed once they enter the river, they must build up tremendous oil reserves beforehand. Burning only this fuel, some of the Canada-bound kings will ascend the river over 2,000 miles, climbing 2,200 feet, fighting the Yukon’s powerful current for up to two months. Consequently, with oil levels reaching more than 30 percent of their muscle weight, Yukon kings are the richest salmon in the world. More oil means more moisture, more flavor, and a lusher taste. Many epicures say these salmon have no equal. They’re like blocks of butter, says one Yukon River fisherman.

A nine minute documentary made by Emanuel Vaughan-Lee, telling the story of nowadays King salmon of the Yukon River. It's the most celebrated variety of salmon, now in danger of going into extinction. Historically, the average Yukon king run was around 300,000; but in the 16 years since 1997 half the run has disappeared; the average harvest is only a third what it was (Alaska Journal of Commerce). The fish is shrinking in size and in weight: evolutionary biology predicts that if a population is subject to significantly increased mortality, earlier sexual maturity will result, and breeding will occur at a smaller body size (Alaska Journal of Commerce). The ecological danger is tackled by the movie somehow obliquely: an old fisherman would love to have his grandchildren take over the trade (and pass the knowledge further, to future generations). His tone seems though far from optimistic. Under his plea there is concern. And so, the fisherman wish for his grandchildren becomes an elegy for an occupation that is in danger to disappear together with the Yukon king.

(Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee)



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