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Kings of the Yukon: A River Journey in Search of the Chinook    by Adam Weymouth order for
Kings of the Yukon
by Adam Weymouth
Order:  USA  Can
Knopf, 2018 (2018)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Freelance journalist Adam Weymouth's Kings of the Yukon: A River Journey in Search of the Chinook is a well written and engrossing mix of lyrical travelogue and thought provoking environmental study. The author spent a summer paddling a canoe across the far North on the 2,000 miles long river, from Canada's Yukon Territory, through Alaska to the Bering Sea. Every summer, millions of salmon (including hundreds of thousands of king salmon or chinook) make that same journey 'between break-up and freeze-up' to their spawning ground, to breed and then die.

Weymouth tells us that 'The history of salmon is the history of this land.' They're depicted in ancient rock carvings and their remnants found in eleven thousand year old middens. 'The Yukon River is the longest salmon run in the world.' The author begins his journey on that river at McNeil Lake in the Yukon. He tells us about the problems of salmon management - endangered species protection versus the rights of communities, for whom salmon fishing has been a cultural (and economic) centre for millennia. He meets many local people in camps and villages along the river, and shares their stories. One tells him, 'We want our children to see what we saw in our lifetimes', but fears they won't.

In encounters with locals, Weymouth marvels at 'indigenous notions of sharing and cooperation' and how they have persisted to this day. He explains the differences - and environmental impacts - between salmon in the wild, in farms, and in salmon ranches. He also addresses genetically engineered salmon, sold (but not labelled as such) in Canada since 2017. He talks about the origins of substance abuse in the region, starting with a 1900 influenza outbreak that killed '60 percent of Eskimos and Athabascans', leaving a people in shock and vulnerable to those telling them their 'old ways had been heathen.'

When his journey ends, the author tells us, 'The life of a fish and a river, as I have learned, is astonishingly complex.' Salmon 'are the lifeblood of this land, coursing through its veins, and they are the lifeblood of the cultures still connected to this land, who are fighting to determine what their future looks like as the century unfolds.' Whether you have a yen for wilderness travel, or are concerned about the future of king salmon, and the people who rely on its continuing existence, I highly recommend this book to you.

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