Upstream

Searching for Wild Salmon, from River to Table

Publisher: Ballantine Books
From the award-winning author of The Mushroom Hunters comes the story of an iconic fish, perhaps the last great wild food: salmon.

For some, a salmon evokes the distant wild, thrashing in the jaws of a hungry grizzly bear on TV. For others, it’s the catch of the day on a restaurant menu, or a deep red fillet at the market. For others still, it’s the jolt of adrenaline on a successful fishing trip. Our fascination with these superlative fish is as old as humanity itself. Long a source of sustenance among native peoples, salmon is now more popular than ever. Fish hatcheries and farms serve modern appetites with a domesticated “product”—while wild runs of salmon dwindle across the globe. How has this once-abundant resource reached this point, and what can we do to safeguard wild populations for future generations?

Langdon Cook goes in search of the salmon in Upstream, his timely and in-depth look at how these beloved fish have nourished humankind through the ages and why their destiny is so closely tied to our own. Cook journeys up and down salmon country, from the glacial rivers of Alaska to the rainforests of the Pacific Northwest to California’s drought-stricken Central Valley and a wealth of places in between. Reporting from remote coastlines and busy city streets, he follows today’s commercial pipeline from fisherman’s net to corporate seafood vendor to boutique marketplace. At stake is nothing less than an ancient livelihood.

But salmon are more than food. They are game fish, wildlife spectacle, sacred totem, and inspiration—and their fate is largely in our hands. Cook introduces us to tribal fishermen handing down an age-old tradition, sport anglers seeking adventure and a renewed connection to the wild, and scientists and activists working tirelessly to restore salmon runs. In sharing their stories, Cook covers all sides of the debate: the legacy of overfishing and industrial development; the conflicts between fishermen, environmentalists, and Native Americans; the modern proliferation of fish hatcheries and farms; and the longstanding battle lines of science versus politics, wilderness versus civilization.

This firsthand account—reminiscent of the work of John McPhee and Mark Kurlansky—is filled with the keen insights and observations of the best narrative writing. Cook offers an absorbing portrait of a remarkable fish and the many obstacles it faces, while taking readers on a fast-paced fishing trip through salmon country. Upstream is an essential look at the intersection of man, food, and nature.

Praise for Upstream

“Passionate . . . Cook deftly conveys his love of nature, the beauty of the Pacific Northwest, and the delectable eating provided by fresh caught wild salmon.”Library Journal

“Insightful . . . this work is a great place to learn what needs to done—and an entertaining view on the positive and negative connections humans have with the natural environment.”Publishers Weekly

“Langdon Cook delivers a beautifully written portrait of the iconic salmon that blends history, biology, contentious politics, and the joy of fishing into a captivating and thought-provoking tale.”—Eric Jay Dolin, author of Brilliant Beacons

“Salmon are the essence of the Pacific Northwest, and as Langdon Cook shows so powerfully, they are the key to its future."—Rowan Jacobsen, author of The Essential Oyster

“In this fresh tale of an ancient wonder, Langdon Cook takes us on an inspired journey of discovery through the heart and soul of salmon country.”—David R. Montgomery, author of King of Fish and Growing a Revolution

READ AN EXCERPT

Chapter 1

Coming Out of the Woodwork on Copper River Day

The skies darkened all at once, as if a curtain suddenly dropped, and rain engulfed the city. Across Puget Sound to the west, the Olympic Mountains disappeared into pillows of low clouds that filled the horizon. A ferry bound for Bainbridge Island...
Read More

PRAISE FOR

“Cook deftly conveys his love of nature, the beauty of the Pacific Northwest, and the delectable eating provided by fresh caught wild salmon. . . . Fishers, environmentalists, naturalists, and armchair travelers will enjoy this passionate and well-written account.”Library Journal

“Cook tackles a Pacific Northwest icon in this wide-ranging exploration of the region’s most famous fish. From the opening pages, bearing witness to shoppers at Pike Place Market and considering the outrageous marketing success of the annual Copper River salmon season, Cook proves himself equally at home fishing in the wildest of rivers and chatting with salesmen and chefs. . . . Cook’s salmon travelogue easily appeals to anglers, salmon eaters, nature lovers, and everyone in between. The Pacific salmon is a great American fish, and by writing about it with such care and curiosity, Cook establishes its ecological importance and tells a great American story.”Booklist

“In this insightful book, Cook clearly outlines scientific information about the species of fish commonly known as salmon. . . . But the focus here is less on facts and research and more on how ‘Pacific salmon culture in North America is a dance between fish and humanity.’ . . . For those who want to . . . see the salmon recapture its former glory, this work is a great place to learn what needs to done—and an entertaining view on the positive and negative connections humans have with the natural environment.”Publishers Weekly

“Exposing striking human-salmon parallels, these stories tell of settlement and cultural clashes, of life cycles and migrations, of deforestation and industrial agriculture, of racism and gentrification, and [Langdon] Cook skillfully illustrates the interconnectedness of it all. Seeking the wild in a landscape fraught with man-made alteration and annihilation, the author interrogates the nature of wildness, posing urgent, provocative questions. . . . Blurring boundaries and complicating the oversimplified, Cook provides a moving, artfully layered story of strength and vulnerability, offering glimpses of hope for growing humility and reverence and for shifting human-nature relationships.”Kirkus Reviews

“Langdon Cook delivers a beautifully written portrait of the iconic salmon that blends history, biology, contentious politics, and the joy of fishing into a captivating and thought-provoking tale. Like a great meal, Upstream is thrilling, deeply satisfying, and memorable. After reading it, you will understand why salmon are worth fighting for.”—Eric Jay Dolin, author of Brilliant Beacons

“Salmon are the essence of the Pacific Northwest, and as Langdon Cook shows so powerfully, they are the key to its future. From the wild flats of Alaska’s Copper River to the straitjacketed creeks of California, Upstream captures the myriad ways people and salmon are deeply intertwined. To read this book is to see through Cook’s sharp eyes the tragedy, mystery, and promise of this magnificent fish we quite literally can’t afford to lose.”—Rowan Jacobsen, author of The Essential Oyster

“In this fresh tale of an ancient wonder, Langdon Cook takes us on an inspired journey of discovery through the heart and soul of salmon country, introducing us to the charismatic fish and people behind the meal.”—David R. Montgomery, author of King of Fish and Growing a Revolution

“Even as salmon populations draw near the brink of collapse, salmon conservation is thriving in the twenty-first century. Upstream introduces the next generation of conservationists, more focused on science and collaboration as a pathway toward recovery than on lawsuits. In the process, Cook takes the reader on a thrilling adventure through the mountains, rivers, farmlands, and kitchens where progress, against all odds, is being made.”—Zeb Hogan, biologist and host of Nat Geo Wild’s Monster Fish