Chances are you won't be catching any salmon in this year of disastrous local runs, but at least you can read about them in these two noteworthy...

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“The Behavior and Ecology of Pacific Salmon & Trout”
by Thomas P. Quinn
University of Washington Press, 378 pp., $60 hardcover,
$35 paperback

“Atlas of Pacific Salmon: The First Map-Based Status Assessment of Salmon in the North Pacific”
by Xanthippe Augerot with Dana Nadel Foley
University of California Press, 150 pp., $34.95

Chances are you won’t be catching any salmon in this year of disastrous local runs, but at least you can read about them in these two noteworthy new books.

Thomas P. Quinn, a University of Washington fisheries professor, has assembled a work destined to become a milestone in salmon literature. Based on cutting-edge research, it offers the most detailed explanation of salmon life history and behavior to appear in print.

But it’s not always easy reading. Quinn has a crisp writing style, but the information he presents is often technical and requires the reader’s full attention. You have to be really interested in salmon to navigate this book.

It’s worth the effort, however. Quinn documents virtually every known aspect of the behavior and ecology of the six species of Pacific salmon, plus steelhead and sea-run cutthroat. He even examines the importance of dead, decomposing salmon.

“The entire ecosystem — from insects to bears and trees, including the salmon themselves — benefits in complex direct and indirect ways from decomposing salmon,” Quinn writes. That’s why ecosystems suffer when salmon runs decline, and Quinn presents data showing Puget Sound’s salmon runs are now at only 8 percent of their historic abundance.

Nevertheless, Quinn remains optimistic about salmon recovery. “Salmon are important to so many of us, in so many ways,” he writes. “They are our food, our recreation, our symbol and inspiration, and a critical component in the ecosystems that we value and depend on. If we dedicate ourselves to ensuring that they continue to play all these roles, I believe the salmon will do the rest.”

The “Atlas of Pacific Salmon” is a very different kind of book. Published in association with the Wild Salmon Center and Ecotrust, it tells the story of salmon and steelhead visually through the “first map-based status assessment of salmon in the North Pacific.” Packaged in a large horizontal format, it features colorful maps by Charles Steinback and photos by former Seattle Times photographer Natalie Fobes.

“This atlas arose out of a need for a broad North Pacific perspective on the status of salmon,” the book says. “To launch our study, we needed to create a spatial unit that would allow us to aggregate and measure data consistently across the North Pacific. We parsed the Pacific Rim into a series of catchment or basin ecosystems that salmon use. … We called these territories ‘salmon ecoregions’ and identified 66 discrete units along the Pacific and Arctic oceans.

“Our distribution and risk maps make an important contribution by presenting for the first time georeferenced data for the western Pacific at a consistent measurable scale.”

The maps are the book’s centerpiece, but the accompanying text explains salmon ecology in general terms that make it easy for the reader. Unfortunately, the text contains several egregious errors. It treats the mechanics of salmon migration as a settled question, which it is not, and says the Boldt Indian fishing-rights decision resulted only in tribal subsistence fisheries for steelhead, when it actually opened the door to commercial netting of steelhead. It places Yellowstone Park in Montana, when nearly all of it is in Wyoming, and it says Rock Island Dam on the Columbia River is “just east of Seattle.”

Well, yes, but it’s a long cab ride.

The text does make some important points, however, especially in noting a “high correlation between human population density and the risk of salmon extinction.” Unfortunately, it offers no formula for solving that problem, although the final chapter does propose a somewhat idealistic recipe for salmon recovery.

The atlas is easier to read than Quinn’s treatise, but anyone interested in salmon could hardly go wrong perusing both volumes.