CODEX Entry 3510: Kamchatka


A rugged and remote peninsula, larger than California, devoid of paved roads, and chiefly accessible by helicopter. Its highlands with cone-shaped volcanic peaks, still snow-streaked in summer. A place in which brown bears and sea-eagles feast on the return home of one in five of the world’s Pacific Salmon. Unlike their Atlantic cousins, Pacific salmon breed once and then die. After the adult has homed to its spawning stream, inexorably, death follows sex. Where once they came in great, regal herds, poaching by criminal syndicates has reduced the procession to a trickle. Nutrients are continually lost from the upper reaches of the valleys, pulled by the water and silt downstream. Yet every year brings renewal from the ocean by the journey and death of millions of salmon. Long before the Russians, the Itelmen people venerated a god, known as Khantai, half fish and half human, such was the importance of this annual bounty. But during the fevered decades of Stalinism, people denounced their neighbors, many were arrested, and were sent to die in the camps of the Gulag Archipelago. In the same era, by contrast, on the opposite side of the Pacific, the wild salmon runs of North America, once great, were devastated by dam building, overfishing, and pollution. The fish genetically further diminished by a reliance on hatcheries.