For thousands of years, salmon was a major food source in the Northwest and regarded as a symbol of abundance, prosperity, persistence, instinct and determination by the Native Americans living there. The Native Americans understood that for all their abundance, salmon were fragile. The salmon could easily be over-fished and their numbers greatly reduced.
Today, Seattle's salmon have been pushed to near extinction. Commercial fishing, hydroelectric dams and the destruction of the natural habitat and global warming have all contributed to the salmon's decline. New buildings and roads, auto exhausts, fertilizers, pesticides and antiquated septic tanks have turned Seattle's Puget Sound into a toxic environment for its salmon.
Native American activists like Billy Frank are working hard to address this problem. Frank, 73, is no stranger to activism. During protests to regain fishing rights for his tribe in the 1970's, he was arrested more than 50 times. Eventually, his tribe won back their rights, but then discovered there were few salmon left to catch. Since 1981, Frank has chaired the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, a coalition of 20 western Washington treaty tribes working on sustainable solutions for saving the salmon.
Despite the hard work of activists like Billy Frank, 90 percent of the wild pacific salmon fish runs are gone, while the national appetite for this delicious food increases. Fortunately, Seattle's government takes this problem seriously. Local, federal and state agencies have invested millions of dollars to protect and enhance the fish's habitat and they anticipate investing millions more.