The icy lives of salmon – from Alaska to Devon

Some cold fishy tales for this time of year…

Salmon are very much associated with the far north. Here on Radio 3, environmental historian Bathsheba Demuth travels to the Arctic ice and tundra to look for the ways people and animals shape each other’s lives.

In this episode, she journeys to the Yukon River, to see how the history of salmon connects to the present – and shows how even those of us living far away have a relationship with the fish of this great river.

Bathsheba Demuth is an environmental historian and writer whoseinterest in northern environments and cultures began when, at 18, she moved to the village of Old Crow in the Yukon. For two years, she mushed huskies, hunted caribou, fished for salmon, tracked bears, and otherwise learned to survive in the taiga and tundra. In this essay series she brings us into the intertwined pasts of people and animals of the lands and waters around the Bering Strait – the ice-studded stretch of ocean between Alaska and the Russian far east.

BBC Radio 3 – The Essay, Postcards from the Floating Coast, In the Lives of Salmon

But we also have salmon on these parts – and cold conditions are ideal.

Here’s an account from the DWT looking at conditions on the Torridge River:

Searching for salmon in ice-cold waters!

Last week, DWT’s Northern Devon Natural Solutions team joined members of the Torridge Fisheries Association in the freezing cold waters of the Torridge, near Shebbear, to look for salmon ‘redds’, where female fish lay their eggs.

In 2021, DWT added gravels to the riverbed here to improve spawning habitat. One year on, has it worked?

We were delighted to find several locations with potential for fish spawning and two sites with perfect habitat, including very clean gravels. A decade ago, 100 redds were counted along a 2-3 mile section of the Upper Torridge but there has been a steep decline in recent years.

Sadly, there was no sign of redds this time, although some have been spotted on the River Teign this winter, so we are surveying the Torridge again this week.

Salmon need several cold days to encourage spawning so hopefully the current cold snap combined with DWT’s gravel habitat work will see salmon spawning on the Torridge this winter.

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It was certainly icy down on the Torridge last week:

Photo courtesy of Devon Wildlife Trust