The numbers of salmon that used to swim the waters around here are legendary. This was cannery country, with the world’s largest either here in Bellingham or up at Semiahmoo depending on who you talk to. Sadly, due to a combination of factors (overfishing, habitat degradation, declining water quality, etc) those historic runs have slowed to a trickle compared to what they once were.
Many of the Alaska runs are pretty healthy, so I feel okay about eating them.
I watch out for the farmed salmon, though. They are raised in pens eating grains, rather than being predators on the open sea as they swim to russia and back. Distributors even have to dye the flesh pink so it looks platable. Yuck.
Most disturbing, the sea lice that infest them are killing young wild fry in Coastal British Columbia as they pass the farms on their way out to sea.
People are starting to pay more attention to where their food comes from now, which is great. Around here we try to find local, sustainable food sources. One of the greatest examples is what the folks across Hale’s passage on Lummi Island are doing.
They are operating a sustainable fishery using the ancient technique of reefnetting.
An Ancient Wild Pacific Salmon Fishery
Wild Pacific Salmon reefnet fishing is a historical Pacific Northwest salmon fishing method. It has been practiced for centuries by Native American tribes using cedar canoes and cedar nets to catch wild sockeye and other wild Pacific salmon. Though the boats have gotten a little bigger and winches are use to pull in the nylon net, this wild Pacific salmon fishing method has remained fundamentally unchanged. Fishermen still stand on towers, waiting to see a school of salmon swim along the reef and over the small net, suspended between two boats. When a school is observed, the net is quickly pulled up and the wild caught salmon are gently spilled into a netted live well to relax after the brief struggle, allowing the dissipation of bitter lactic acid that has built up in their flesh, resulting in a sweeter flavor. The fish are then sorted and any unwanted species that may have been caught are harmlessly diverted back into the water. The remaining salmon are bled by cutting a gill and are then placed into another live well to swim until dead. An insulated tote of slush ice is waiting for the bled fish, where they will stay until the end of the day, when they are processed. Reefnetting produces the highest quality wild pacific salmon available. If salmon are to be caught and eaten, they should be treated with the utmost reverence and respect. Reefnetting allows this special type of handling.Reefnetting can only be done on a flood tide, because the gear is set up to face the flood current when salmon are moving northward toward the Fraser River. By utilizing this flood tide the fishery can use stationary gear and wait for the tide to bring the harvest. Spotters must actually see the salmon swim over the nets. No fossil fuels are used to chase the wild salmon, and there is very little disruption of marine mammals, birds or the environment in terms of water, air, noise or motion.
When I have a chance to get the Lummi Island reefnet salmon, I know I’m getting a lot of bang for my buck. And it’s mighy tasty, too.