The Selfish Salmon

By Thorin N. Tatge

My price per pound, my price per pound,
I flail and I frown at my price per pound.
I scuttle around and my flesh turns brown,
To see so impoverished this price per pound,
This pitiful price per pound!

In the First Age of Salmon, a bygone time, I ran with a school whose habits were fine.
My school was fit, and their habits were fine—my school was fed on advice of mine.
Advice of mine, telling how to live, that only I was equipped to give:
The only salmon with any guile, I taught them well and we lived a while...

…Though of eight thousand in every redd their mothers dug in the riverbed,
Five thousand alevin only thrived, and of them, six hundred fry survived.
Two thirds of them failed to make the bar, so just two hundred were marked as parr,
And three in four would turn out a dolt, all dead before they were silver-smolt.
Which left just fifty to have a care for flying talons and claws of bear,
And few were able to learn and bank the signs of danger and when to tank,
To dive for cover and break from rank—and those who did all had me to thank.
They wouldn’t listen to lessons taught, and full four dozen were swiftly caught.
So of eight thousand in every nest, on average, two would outlast the rest.
O how I came to distrust, detest, these two who reckoned themselves the best!
They seemed to think if they lived to spawn, they had no purpose in moving on:
They’d shown themselves to be of some worth, upheld their species and given birth.
They passed the buck along to their fry, and felt like they were allowed to die.
I ask you: what could I do but sigh?

Yet we lived a while, until one week, a spinner came to Chinook Creek;
A dappler sat there with his jig, a gigger with his grisly gig;
A trawler seined the broadest brooks; a troller trailed two dozen hooks;
A spearer speared, a setter set, a netter crouched and bunched her net,
A snagger snagged, a gaffer gaffed, an angler flyfished from a raft,
A bowman bowfished from the shore...and we were safe, I knew, no more.

I told my school, in soothing tones, to seat it deep in their prickly bones,
That if we wanted to save our line, our future lay in the distant brine.
The westward sea to which rivers flow was where, as one, we would have to go.
These lures would soon make an end of us—unless we all turned anadromous!
We’d split our lives between pool and bay, the ocean’s coast and the river’s spray,
And though we might return here to play, for years at once we must course away!

With those who listened I met success, and carved a life in that wilderness.
I told them, “Remedy every fault!  Retain your water, expel your salt!
Avoid predation, find things to eat, grow large like oceans, become elite!”
And at the end of this voyage grand, at last, returning as one inland,
We tried the waters on every hand, and found our journey had gone as planned!
Our instincts having grown strong and pure, no longer were we so quick to lure,
So quick to catch or so quick to snare, so quick to die in the open air,
So quick to reel or so quick to ground—and this bade well for our price per pound!
Our price per pound, our price per pound—
Our rising, rising price per pound.
And for a while, my mind was sound,
As long I dwelt on my price per pound,
My personal, personal, price per pound,
That glorious price per pound!

The land is brief, by waters bound; the ocean flows the whole world round.
On land each dwells in his domain; not so for our aquatic strain!
There are no walls beneath the waves, and given how our kind behaves,
Before too long, the sea was filled with salmon of our pliant guild.
The ages rose and fell, though I alone remained too sharp to die,
And it was not much later when I found myself displeased again!
As Sockeye, Coho, Steelhead, Pink, our bodies filled the briny drink;
As Chum, Chinook, Atlantic, King, our species all were flourishing!
So while it seemed that man’s demand held mainly constant on the land,
Here in the ocean, our supply was boasting numbers far too high.
No longer could we try or hope to sideskirt every baited rope;
No longer could we all evade the traps that those above had laid.
Without the space to swim away, our numbers made us easy prey,
And this, to my dismay, I found, had pulverized our price per pound!
Our price per pound, our price per pound,
Our price went plummeting down and down,
And down, and down, still farther down,
And I grew rash, and tightly wound
To hear the news of my price per pound,
That pitiful price per pound!

Enough!  Adapting my strategy, I cast my school away from me!
If I would always by them be gauged, I’d make them sorry!  And so, enraged,
I bared my motives and spoke my cause, I took my leave and revoked my laws—
If only I could avoid the snare, and only I could eschew the air,
Then best that I should be spanking rare, and worms to those who would cry “Unfair!”

And so, my school, no longer bound by regulations both wise and sound
Became much easier prey to ground, and farther still fell our price per pound!
I winced to witness this drop in price—but all was part of my grand device!
I knew, although it would take some time, that salmon hauls would begin to climb,
No matter whom they had given rights, to Chilkat, Makah, Coquille or Whites,
No matter what kind of lines or boats or jigs or trappings or baits or floats,
I knew my brethren would soon forget how not to die in a fishing net,
Which estuaries were safe to cross, which times of year bore the smallest loss,
The safest rivers where eggs were laid—the ins and outs of the salmon trade!

Indeed, I’m certain it won’t be long before this thinning affects the throng;
I surely won’t have too long to wait before they meet their predestined fate:
To wander stupidly through the brooks, those brainless Steelheads and coarse Chinooks,
The mindless Sockeye and witless Pink, the dullard Coho too slow to think,
The fool Atlantic and dimwit Chum, the King, not regal so much as dumb—
Their rightful fate I have now returned, in grim accordance with what I’ve learned:
The course of nature is hard to steer, and if I’d have that my course be clear,
The only way is to go alone, and leave all other fish on their own.
With any luck, in some era soon, they’ll tap the fish from their last lagoon,
They’ll drain the last of their creeks and bays—they’ll likely keep at it anyways!
And what will come when they realize they’ve caused the fishes’ morose demise?

Demise, that is, of all but me; and when I flit by mockingly,
And leap the crest as I dart by, and when they gaze in awe at my
Evasive actions, swift and deft, and learn that there is one fish left…
Why, I expect they’ll have me crowned with a practically infinite price per pound!
My precious, precious price per pound,
The most ridiculous goal around,
Per pound, per pound, per perfect pound,
And yet, the best that I’ve ever found,
And when all others have long since drowned,
These words forevermore shall resound:
“All heed my wonderful price per pound,
My fabulous Price Per Pound!”