The First Salmon Ceremony – A tale of Thanksgiving

The First Salmon Ceremony – A tale of Thanksgiving

The origins of our current Thanksgiving Holiday revolve around giving thanks and sacrifice for the blessing of the harvest and of the preceding year, but giving thanks certainly didn’t originate with the Pilgrims in the 1600s. Consider the Native Nations in the Pacific Northwest.

There are very few things that have more importance to the ecosystem of the Pacific Northwest than Salmon. As they return from the ocean to spawn, they hold an important role of nourishment by providing important nutrients to the land, animals and people. As a matter of fact, we often think of salmon only in terms of nourishment, but these beautiful fish are solely responsible for shaping the society and cultural identity of regional Native Nations for literally thousands of years. Fishing remains the most prevalent form of livelihood. The First Salmon Ceremony, for example, is a cultural tradition celebrating the trade and sharing techniques that have been passed down through many generations.

There is a story told that goes something like this: As the creator was preparing to bring people to the earth, he called upon the plants and animals to offer a gift that would sustain and nourish them because they would be helpless, and need assistance. The first who offered to help was Salmon, who offered its body to feed the people, followed by water who offered to home the salmon. Although there are many different versions of this tale, every tribal group who fish for salmon has a form of first salmon ceremony. 

The ceremony begins by the salmon chief selecting a fisher to catch the first salmon-this is a great honor. Before entering the river, the fisher receives a blessing and purification. After catching the fish it is brought to shore, carefully prepared, and cooked before being handed out to the people. Each group is doing this in a way that is unique to that geographic location and tribe. The bones are cleaned and returned to the water where it is believed the salmon would continue its journey. During the ceremony there is a universal respect for the salmon being presented as a gift. The intention is that the fish god will recognize this and continue to allow the salmon to return the following year.

The First Salmon Ceremony holds so much significance because it is a celebration of life for the salmon people. Without the salmon, there would be no tribe, no community, no history. At this time of year, as we begin our holiday season, we, too, give thanks for salmon and believe that it should be celebrated with a place of honor on our Thanksgiving table. We are also thankful for you, our Pride of Bristol Bay customers, as you make up our community. For that, we are grateful.

Photos by NW Treaty Tribes

Pride of Bristol Bay


Simply put, Bristol Bay is an amazing place. We are back on terra firma and the 2017 fishing season has come to an end. The river systems in Bristol Bay are literally teeming with spawning wild Sockeye Salmon. Combined, the major river systems; Naknek, Kvichak, Alagnak, Ugashik, Egegik, Wood and Nushagak rivers have close to 19 million Sockeye digging redds, depositing eggs and milt, carrying out a natural cycle that that has been repeated year after year for centuries.


Photo Credit: Bob Waldrop

The fishing season itself was glorious, exciting, hectic, frenzied and downright exhausting. Every year the Sockeye enter Bristol Bay in a different pattern and this year was no exception. At one point in early July there was a 4-day period during which the cumulative daily catch and escapement into the river systems exceeded 3 million fish! To put this in perspective; the total catch and escapement for the entire Copper River Sockeye salmon fishery for the 2017 season was around 1.4 million fish. 59 million wild Sockeye returned to Bristol Bay.

Bristol Bay

Photo Credit: Bob Waldrop

At Pride of Bristol Bay our message to all wild salmon lovers is; Savor Bristol Bay and Save Bristol Bay. This year’s wild sockeye fillets and portions are as beautiful as ever. Whether you fill your freezer through one of our buying clubs or have our Bristol Bay Sockeye delivered to your door when we launch our home delivery program this September, every pound of wild salmon we sell will generate a donation to the Save Bristol Bay campaign. The campaign raises awareness, educates and advocates for one of the world’s greatest cold water fishery habitats on behalf of me, you and every stakeholder. So, when your Savoring our wild Sockeye fresh off the grill, don’t take that privilege for granted, and when dinner’s over take a minute and visit and learn how you can help keep this amazing resource healthy and robust for generations to come.

Photo Credit: Bob Waldrop

Salmon Fishing

What You Need to Know About Bristol Bay

Did you know that the Bristol Bay watershed supports the largest sockeye salmon fishery in the world? It’s located in southwestern Alaska and has six major river basins. The two largest are the Nushagak River—also known as ‘Nush’—and the Kvichak River. Together, they compose about 50% of the total watershed area. The other four river basins are the Togiak River, Naknek River, Egegik River, and the Ugashik River. Combined, these waterways are key in supporting sockeye salmon.

AlaskaThe Bristol Bay region is also home to numerous other animals, including 29 fish species, over 190 different types of birds, and more than 40 earthbound mammals. Chief among these resources is the world-class commercial and sport fishery for Pacific salmon. The watershed includes all five species of Pacific salmon found in North America: sockeye, coho, Chinook, chum, and pink. For us, harvesting sockeye salmon is the most successful and plentiful in the region.

Bristol Bay has a true claim to wild salmon as there aren’t any hatchery fish raised or released in the watershed. In essence, these fish are anadromous —meaning, they hatch and rear in freshwater systems, migrate to the sea to grow into adults, and return to freshwater systems to spawn and eventually pass away.

Like we previously mentioned, the most abundant salmon species in the watershed is sockeye salmon. Evidently, Bristol Bay supports the largest sockeye salmon fishery in the world; it contains over 45% of the global myriad of wild sockeye salmon! According to the EPA, between 1990 and 2010, the yearly average upstream sockeye salmon run in Bristol Bay was approximately 37.5 million fish. The annual commercial harvest of sockeye salmon—over that same period of time—averaged 27.5 million, with half of the sockeye salmon production coming from the Nushagak and Kvichak rivers.

In the Bristol Bay region, salmon composes an average of 52% of the subsistence harvest. Subsistence from all sources (fish, moose, and other wildlife) accounts for an average of 80% of the protein ingested by the surrounding area’s residents.

This goes without saying, but exploring the Bristol Bay area (by land or by sea) is the best way to fully digest its sprawling landscape and unique ecosystem. Whether you come for its natural beauty or for the 2018 salmon season, it’s an experience of a lifetime.