Salmon Course: Salmon, People, and Place
By Joe Jackson

coho salmon

A school of Coho rest in the Delta Clearwater after travelling some-900 river miles. © Joe Jackson

Salmon, People, and Place

If there is one thing that defines Alaska more than anything else — more than the Iditarod, more than Denali — it has to be salmon. For anglers, myself included, Alaskan salmon represent the ultimate in sport and opportunity. For subsistence users, they mean full freezers and secure winters. For everyone else, whether they know the difference between a sockeye and a coho or not, salmon are icons of strength, persistence and wildness.


Dipnetting on the Copper River. © Sean Holland

But how are salmon managed for the benefit of all? How do salmon shape cultures? How do they influence society in this 21st century?

In a new, one-of-a-kind online course from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and edX, instructor Peter Westley explores these questions and more. Peter, an assistant professor of fisheries at UAF, is a good friend of mine and knows salmon better than anyone I’ve ever met. (He’s also my go-to for covert fishing information). With his wide gamut of experience, ranging from working in fish camps far up the Yukon River to completing fisheries studies out in Bristol Bay, Peter knows these fish and what they mean to the people of Alaska. This course — called Salmon, People, and Place — is an opportunity for students to learn from both Indigenous and Western experts through interviews, discussions and case studies. The best part? The course is free, but if you want to purchase a certificate of completion you can do that, too.

salmon life cycle

Assistant professor of fisheries Peter Westley explains salmon life history. © Joe Jackson

Generally, I wouldn’t condone taking an online course that cuts into your fishing time, but this is the rare exception. Whether you’re a fly-fishing purist or a dipnetter or a subsistence user that’s been going to fish camp every summer since you were born, there are things to be learned in this course.

fish wheel

The bounties of a fish wheel. © Emmie Jackson

This is an experience that will only heighten your respect for wild salmon and how they’ve come to define this amazing state, and it may just give you a new perspective on what it means to be Alaskan.

Find out more here.