May is when we typically release our Atlantic salmon fry into the Presumpscot River watershed. ... Some participants released their salmon early, some took them home, and others were able to keep caring for them on-site.1
The life cycle of salmon can be learned by visiting a fish hatchery. Besides learning the biology of salmonid fish (like salmon, trout, and charr), hatchery field trips should prompt our awe and appreciation for how God gives these fish life.2,3
Consider how miraculous the life cycle of Atlantic (or Pacific) salmon really is.
Salmon begin their remarkable life-cycle from eggs which have been laid, fertilized, and covered with gravel (sometimes sand) in the upper reaches of a river or stream. Water must flow through the gravel to supply oxygen. After incubation, tiny alevins (pronounced AL-i-vinz) emerge from the eggs. Alevins have a yolk sac below their bellies which contains sufficient nutrition for their early development. They do not emerge from under the gravel during this alevin stage, but stay there for protection against predators until their yolk sac is fully absorbed.3
The next stage of life for salmon is “fry”—the stage at which some venture (or are released) into freshwater streams that flow into tidal coast-waters.
When they emerge they are 3-4 centimetres (about 1 1/2 inches) long, and are called fry. They make their way to larger freshwater pools for protection from sunlight and predators. The time which fry stay in fresh water varies with the species, and can be from two to 20 months.3
At the “fry” stage the young salmon are almost ready to be venture out into a freshwater stream that flows into oceanic tidewaters.
So Molly Woodring’s group brought their salmon fry to Gilsland Farm Audubon Center, a multidisciplinary eco-science campus in Falmouth, Massachusetts.4
Ours [i.e., the salmon fry raised by Molly Woodring’s group] continued to grow at Gilsland Farm [Audubon Center] until last Thursday [April 30], when we packed up close to 200 thriving fry and brought them back to the Saco Salmon Restoration Alliance and Hatchery… This leaves “our” salmon with an exciting future as potential brood stock for future generations of Fish Friends salmon.1
Salmon fry need to wait, staying in calm parts of freshwater streams (or inside a hatchery’s artificial equivalent), until they transition from fry into striped “parr,” then into the silvery “smolt” stage. At that time, they can adventurously swim downstream into coastal sea-waters. This is usually done on a moonless night, under the protective cover of darkness—no need to attract fish-eating predators!5
Since coastal waters mix riverine tributary freshwaters with oceanic saltwater, the saltiness at the coast is less salty than the more concentrated salinity of open-ocean water. Accordingly, smolts in coastal waters briefly acclimate before they venture out into the salty ocean—which is now to be the “home range” for most of the remainder of their lives.
Just before they journey downstream to the ocean, some physiological changes occur, and the young salmon are now called smolts. Here an amazing adaptation takes place: the creatures start to adapt from their freshwater homes to the salt water of the ocean.3
But the preprogrammed time arrives, eventually, when a physiological “alarm clock” rings inside the ocean-dwelling salmon, signaling that it is time to return to the native stream-waters, to go upstream for reproductive spawning.
This process will be reversed again when the fish later return to the place of their birth to spawn. After a period of adjustment to salt water at the river's mouth, they make their way to the sea, where they spend most of their adult lives. Time spent in the ocean also varies with species, but is normally one to five years. While in the ocean, salmon travel thousands of miles from their native rivers. The mystery of migration is still only vaguely understood, and is another of the many evidence of intricate design found in created things.3
Really, the life cycle of salmon is one providential miracle after another.2,3 The only reason we don’t call these physiological details what they are—miracles—is because they are repeated in the life cycle of every salmon.
Fish hatcheries are aquaculture operations that focus on the early life of salmon. More can be learned about fish life, especially its adult phase, by visiting an operational “fish farm,” where net-pens serve as 3D “corrals” for salmonid “livestock” who are being fattened up for the market.6
Both hatchery and fish-farm visits can provide opportunities to see how the Genesis Mandate is being furthered by raising fish as marine “livestock.”3,6
Meanwhile, improving the health of freshwater tributaries should improve the future for salmon and trout of later generations, who use and reuse the streams that their forebears used during their anadromous life cycles.
In future years, their descendants [salmon who are descended from those released into tidewater-tributaries during May of 2020] may benefit from Maine Audubon’s work to improve stream connectivity [i.e., constructing culverts to conserve habitats at otherwise interruptive stream-road crossings] and restore habitat for salmon and other wildlife.1
Fish are important members of the animal kingdom. Scripture mentions fish on many occasions, including times when fish were being served as nutritious food7—and on one occasion the Lord Jesus clearly indicated that fish, as a food, was good.8
1. Woodring, M. 2020. Good Luck, Young Salmon! Maine Audubon. Posted on MaineAudubon.org May 6, 2020, accessed May 11, 2020.
2. Job 12:7; Psalm 107:23-25. Regarding the salmon life cycle, as exhibiting God’s creative bioengineering, see Dr. Jobe Martin’s DVD, Amazing Animals of Alaska (God’s Living Treasures, vol. 2). Rockwall, TX: Biblical Discipleship Ministries. This DVD is available at ICR.org/store.
3. Dreves, D. 1996. Pacific Salmon, the Ocean’s High Achievers. Creation Ex Nihilo. 18(3):26-28. Republished at https://answersingenesis.org/aquatic-ani
4. Gilsland Farm Audubon Center is located in Falmouth, Massachusetts, near Portland. For decades it has hosted wetlands biome ecology research, birdwatching, and other field trip learning activities—an educational treasure trove for scientists and schoolchildren alike. This writer first observed Black-capped Chickadees, on May 31, 1995 (at the Gilsland Farm Sanctuary, as it was then called), as part of attending the annual national meeting of the Society of Wetlands Scientists.
5. Johnson, J. J. S. 2015. The Moon Rules. Acts & Facts. 44(9): 21.
6. Johnson, J. J. S. 2020. Fish Farming Feeds Scots, But It’s Not Getting Easier. COVID-19 News. Posted on ICR.org April 21, 2020, accessed May 11, 2020. Fish-farming, using managed coast water net-pens is one aquaculture method useful in fulfilling the Genesis Mandate. See Johnson, J. J. S. 2013. Fulfilling the Genesis Mandate while Helping the Poor. Acts & Facts. 42(12):19.
7. Matthew 14:17-19, 15:34-36; Mark 6:38-43, 8:7; Luke 9:13-16, 24:36-43; John 6:9-11, 21:9-13.
8. Matthew 7:9-11; Luke 11:11-13.
*Dr. Johnson is Associate Professor of Apologetics and Chief Academic Officer at the Institute for Creation Research.