Flyer specials on sockeye abound – but where are they from? Not BC! Not Alaska! Not anywhere recognized as sustainable. Here’s an example: on the front page of today’s Buy-Low flyer is photo of some lovely bright sockeye salmon. The photo is cleverly placed right under the “BC Day” Headline and provincial flag to make it seem local. Everything else on the front page contains an official logo of some kind such as the “buyBC” logo or the “Canadian Beef” logo. But the fish has nothing to identify where it is from. No MSC certification, no “buyBC” logo, certainly not Oceanwise. Our BC sockeye returns are strong so far this year, why are we shipping salmon from…? FWIW my guess is Siberia!
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When we were in Prince Rupert a couple weeks ago, on our way to the first fishing of the season, Otto and I were lucky enough to get interviewed by the local CBC Radio station. Check out our interview with Carolina de Ryk, co-host of CBC Daybreak North, Prince Rupert:

20110621_07-26-23.jpgGood morning and Happy Canada Day!

After almost two weeks in cramped quarters, mixed weather and truly spectacular scenery, it’s time for me to leave Otto and Boris so that I can continue on to Haida Gwaii (formerly the Queen Charlotte Islands) for my own personal adventure.

This has been a once-in-a-lifetime trip; it’s hard to imagine that Otto has been doing it yearly for the last forty-two years. There have been a ton of changes in the industry since Otto began and it gets harder and harder every year to make ends meet. There’s increasing competition for the fish out there, the costs of running a boat continue to go up (especially fuel) and there’s more and more pressure from fish farms up and down the coast. I’ve had a chance to see, first-hand, how innovative models like our Community Supported Fishery keep fishing a viable profession in the face of an increasingly corporate, centralized and industrial fishing industry.

20110627_06-28-43.jpgIn addition to this blog, I’ve started uploading pictures taken during the trip to my Flickr account; when I’m back from my adventures in Haida Gwaii I’ll make sure they’ve all got captions, so you know what you’re looking at.

With the first fishing of the season under the belt, I’m sure it’s going to be a good season for Otto, Terry and Rod on the North Coast. Word came down yesterday that the Nass opening will happen next Monday for two days, again; hopefully it’ll be great fishing in fantastic weather. It’s time to wish Otto well and make my way to the ferry. Thanks so much for following along on our journey… it’s been a blast!

20110630_15-01-01.jpgMy writing for this blog isn’t actually finished, even if my journey with Otto has. I had the chance to do and see a few amazing things here in Prince Rupert that I hope to share with you as soon as I get back to Vancouver. One of the highlights was an incredible lesson by Opa Sushi in Prince Rupert on how to cut sashimi and make other Japanese dishes from a whole sockeye salmon. Once I edit down the 90 minutes of video I recorded, I’ll be sure to post it on the blog. Also, I’ve been collecting some amazing salmon recipes along the way that I’ll also be posting when I return. Stay tuned…

After a restful night tied up in Port Edward, we went over to the packers’ dock to unload the salmon, get it in bins and get it on the truck heading down to Vancouver.

20110629_08-21-02.jpgFor the bigger boats, there’s a machine I can only describe as a “fish vacuum” that sucks the fish out of their fish holds and sends it through a hose to the sorting/grading conveyor belt, where the different species (sockeye, pink, spring, etc.) are separated into separate larger fish totes (bins) by hand. These are big industrial operations, with forklifts and other industrial equipment constantly in action. Our small catch avoids most of this flurry of activity, however, since we’re only using this company to help get our catch down to Vancouver.

20110629_08-00-04.jpgInstead, two barrels are lowered by crane to our boats (the tide is out, and there are big tides here, so we’re almost 30 feet below the dock) and filled by hand as Otto and Terry pull their salmon out of their fish holds, one at a time. As each barrel is filled, it’s hoisted up and poured into one of the large totes. There’s no worry about separate the different species because that can be done in Richmond when the sockeye and pinks are dressed–which is a fancy way of saying “gutted”.

Our catch almost filled two totes, which were then weighed, tagged and filled with ice slush before being loaded onto a truck. In about 24 hours, that truck will arrive in Richmond and be met by Sonia and Shaun, who’ll be scheduling a pick-up for members shortly thereafter.

20110629_08-29-35.jpgOtto, Terry, Boris and I are now traveling back to Prince Rupert to buy groceries and wait for news on when the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) will be opening the Nass fishing grounds for another opening. Dock talk suggests that there’ll be another opening next Monday for the Nass and that the Skeena River fishery (just south of Prince Rupert) might have an opening not long after that. For now, though, we’ll travel to Rupert, and wait.

During the trip, you can either check this blog for the latest entries, or you can go to this interactive map of all the blog posts related to this trip. You can also find photos from the trip on Flickr.

20110627_06-52-58.jpgI’m not sure where to start, apart from the fact that today was even less productive than yesterday. A ton more boats left the fishing grounds early; we only caught a handful more fish ourselves and our fishing buddies Terry and Rod had similar experiences. So, it’s now mid-afternoon and we’re on our way back to Port Edward, where we’ll have to deliver our fish in the morning.

It’s been raining and windy since mid-morning and a misty fog has descended on the ocean around us, giving us only about a half-mile of visibility. Fortunately, we stay close enough to shore on this trip that it’s easy to see the landmarks necessary to keep us on track. (If the weather was worse, we could always use the radar on the boat, but that’s not a fun way to navigate and it doesn’t always see debris in the water.)

20110628_07-47-25.jpgFishermen like Otto are some of the last hunter-gatherers in our culture; they go into wild and wonderful places far off the beaten track to gather food and bring it back to us. It’s physically challenging work and you have to have a particular kind of personality to accept that you’re completely at the whims of the natural world, both above and below the waterline. If the weather and the fish don’t cooperate, a great day can turn into a lousy one quite quickly.

One of the upsides of leaving the grounds early is that we’ll be in Port Edward with enough time tonight for a shower and early evening; we also won’t have to get up extra early to ensure that we deliver our fish on time. We’ll tie up at a wharf that’s only five minutes from the drop-off point.

Terry has already transferred his catch to our boat, so he’s heading into Prince Rupert while Terry will be joining us in Port Edward.

During the trip, you can either check this blog for the latest entries, or you can go to this interactive map of all the blog posts related to this trip. You can also find photos from the trip on Flickr.

20110627_08-43-13.jpgGood morning from Sommerville Island, where we anchored again last night after our first day of fishing. Although yesterday started off glassy calm and sunny, by mid-day the wind started to pick up and the tide changed, making things a little rougher (as you saw in the “reeling in the net” video yesterday). Although we were allowed to fish until 10PM, we gave up about 7PM because the fish got sparse, making the bumpy weather not worth it. A relaxing evening in a quiet sheltered bay was just what was needed before giving it another shot this morning.

20110628_07-46-08.jpgThere’s about 80 fish in the hold now, mostly sockeye with a few pinks and a few springs (including a *big* 20lb one!); hopefully we can double that today. If we get good fishing today we’ll stay as late as we can, getting up extra early to get back to Port Edward tomorrow morning to get the fish on a truck to come down to Vancouver.

Although fishermen are often tight-lipped about their catch, it’s pretty clear that no one had a stellar day yesterday; 20110627_08-47-47.jpga ton of people left the fishing grounds even earlier than we did and a few even headed back in the direction of Prince Rupert. There are rumours of some boats that only caught a handful of fish all day. That must be profoundly disheartening…

Time to get some coffee into this groggy body so that we can hit the ground running.

There’s fish out there, somewhere… hopefully Otto can find them.

During the trip, you can either check this blog for the latest entries, or you can go to this interactive map of all the blog posts related to this trip. You can also find photos from the trip on Flickr.

So, this whole fishing thing… what’s it like? Here’s a short summary of the process, based on what I’ve seen so far…

20110627_05-17-48.jpg1) Pick your starting spot. Undoubtedly there’s a ton of experience and wisdom involved, but to the undescerning eye it looks an awful lot like throwing a dart at a map. As the day progresses, based on your own catch, the reports from your friends, and rumours from further afield, you adjust your location accordingly. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) sets all sorts of rules on the general areas you can fish and if there are any special restrictions to protect species of fish you’re not fishing for. In our case, we were required to stay a half-mile offshore on one side and a mile offshore on the other to let a coast-hugging species of fish get by us. Also, the area in which we’re allowed to fish is specifically proscribed by the DFO

20110627_06-00-46.jpg2) Set your gear. In the case of a gillnetter, your “gear” is a net (called “mesh”) of specific size for the species you’re trying to catch. Fish that are too small can swim right through the mesh and fish that are too large just bounce off. For fish that are the right size, they go headfirst into the net and stop when they get stuck, usually when the net is as far as their dorsal fin (the bit one on their back). If they try to back out, the net gets caught in their gills, holding them in. (Hence the name: gillnet). The net has a lead-core rope strung along the bottom and a string of “corks”, or floats, on top. Large orange marker buoys are attached to the start and end of the net to help make them more visible to other passing boats. You roll it all off the net drum, as seen below, and get it in the water in a slightly arcing shape. There are specific restrictions, also, on how long and how deep your net can be.

20110627_06-05-52.jpg3) Let your gear “soak”. In really calm weather, like we have today, you can actually see the “corks” bobbing when a fish hits the net; if you see several floats go below the water, you know you’ve got a big one. “Soak time” is another restriction the DFO can put on you when they’re trying to protect a species at risk; shorter soak times mean that it’s less likely that something will get caught in your net and die. In our case, there was little concern and so there were no restrictions placed on us. Also, every once in awhile, we’d cruise along the length of the cork line to get an idea of how many fish were in the net.

20110627_06-55-10.jpg4) Reel in your gear. When it’s time to bring it aboard, you first have to hook one of the large buoys and attach the rope to your net drum. Then, you start to reel it in. As you reel fish in, you have to untangle them from the net; if it’s a species you’re not supposed to catch and looks pretty energetic still, it can go straight back in the water. There are also “revival” tanks that are dark boxes with sea-water pumped in; the water moves pretty quickly and has a good amount of oxygen, so it perks the fish right up, before they’re released back into the water.

20110627_07-42-54.jpg5) Count and store your fish. The fish, when caught, have to be carefully counted before being placed in your fish holds, which are full of salt water/ice slush. For some species, like spring salmon (but not sockeye) they have to be cleaned (gutted) right away because enzymes in the gut can break down the flesh quite quickly.

6) Lather, rinse and repeat. At least until your fishing day ends, which is either when the DFO has said to stop (10:00PM, in our case), when the weather becomes too rough or when you have a couple “water catches” (nets with no fish) in a row and feel dejected enough to stop.

20110628_07-47-25.jpgThe wind is starting to pick up here and the waves are getting bigger; apparently this is common for the body of water we’re in right now. We’ll see how long we feel like continuing to fish, before retreating to the bay for the night before resuming tomorrow. I’m sure I’ll be asleep quickly, so I’ll wish you a goodnight for now.

During the trip, you can either check this blog for the latest entries, or you can go to this interactive map of all the blog posts related to this trip. You can also find photos from the trip on Flickr.

20110627_05-03-01-2.jpgIt’s just after 5:00AM on our first day of fishing; we’re out of bed and heading to where we’re going to drop our nets first this morning. On the radio, Otto, Terry and Rod are all staking out their spots, fairly far removed from one another; in theory, that’s of benefit to all three so that they have a better sense faster of where the good fishing is going to be.

Already, most of the others who anchored in the same bay as us last night have headed off to claim their spot. It’s not looked on very kindly when one fisherman fishes too close to another, so those who head out early usually get the best spots.

20110627_05-03-28.jpgNets can’t get dropped into the water until 6:00AM, but there’s still a lot that needs to be done: breakfast needs to be cooked (bacon and eggs, of course!), the pumps that feed the revival tanks need to be switched on, Otto needs to suit up into his rubber gear and the big orange floats need to be in position to be deployed.

The sun hasn’t peeked over the mountains yet, but it’s looking like it’s going to be a great day; winds are calm and the tides don’t look to be very strong. It’s looking like a good day for fishing. Let’s hope it’s also a good day for catching.

During the trip, you can either check this blog for the latest entries, or you can go to this interactive map of all the blog posts related to this trip. You can also find photos from the trip on Flickr.

20110626_15-59-08.jpgHello from the fishing grounds! We’ve just met up with Otto’s fishing buddies, Rod and Terry, in a long protected bay where we’ll be anchored for the night. There are over fifty other gillnet boats here as well, waiting for tomorrow at 6:00AM when we can all start fishing. Most of the boats are in pairs or threes, tied up together with one boat dropping their anchor.

I’ve come to learn that fisherman are a competitive group (squeezing accurate information about fishing conditions from these guys is as easy as holding on to a greased pig.) That said, everyone seems to have a couple or three friends that they can trust, sharing (mostly accurate) info as they try to assess the scene. I suspect those are exactly the groupings I see people tied up into.

20110626_19-08-13.jpgThe trip up here was uneventful, and shorter than expected, possibly because of all the long days of traveling we’ve had just to get here. We’re about six hours north of Prince Rupert and can see Alaska from here. (I joked on Facebook this afternoon that Sarah Palin might be able to see Russia from her house, but we can see Alaska from the boat…)

The area we’re in is huge and beautiful; there’s still snow on the mountains around us, but the water is glassy calm.

Let’s hope it’s like that tomorrow. Also, tonight will be my first night on the boat where we’re not tied up to a dock to sleep; I wonder how much we’ll move around when we’re only held in place by an anchor.

During the trip, you can either check this blog for the latest entries, or you can go to this interactive map of all the blog posts related to this trip. You can also find photos from the trip on Flickr.

20110625_10-58-43.jpgIt’s been a bit of a whirlwind since we hit Prince Rupert. Before tying up, we hit the fuel dock and filled the Eldorado back up; it seems that we burned through almost $600 in diesel to get from Port Hardy to here. Running a boat sure isn’t cheap.

Not long after we got into Prince Rupert, a local Twitter-friend who’s also a host for CBC Radio Prince Rupert interviewed both Otto and I about the Community Supported Fishery and my documentation on this blog. As soon as it gets broadcast (possibly on Wednesday), I’ll be sure to post the interview online.

20110626_08-11-30.jpgIn the afternoon, I did a little poking around Rupert. Not unlike North Vancouver, it’s nestled between the mountains and the water and even though it’s not a large town (only about 13,000 people), it’s still an impressively diverse and active community. The wharf we’re staying at is in an area called Cow Bay; everything is painted in black and white splotches–it’s significantly more adorable than it sounds. The cruise ship terminal is nearby, as are a number of interesting-looking stores that I’ll have to come back and visit when I’m back in town. I also stopped at Breakers, a nice (and busy) waterfront pub, to use their wireless internet to send off a few emails. (Buy a beer and get free internet? Sounds like a great deal to me…)

20110625_19-10-58.jpgAfter poking around Cow Bay for a bit, I wandered up to the Museum of Northern BC. In addition to information about the history of the area, it hosts a breathtaking collection of North Coast art. There’s something special about them being displayed so much closer to their originating communities, some of which we’ve already visited on this journey.

Not long afterward, I wandered back to the boat and found that Otto was still “up-town” at the Safeway, so I decided to take a little wander around the docks to take photos. That’s about when I met the guy with the dungeness crab that I mentioned in yesterday’s video.

20110626_08-19-13.jpgThis morning I had breakfast at the Crest Hotel; their restaurant has an incredible view of the water and the island across from from Rupert. They also make a mean smoked salmon eggs benedict. On my way there, I stopped to offer to help a group of Filipino men take a picture of themselves and by the end of the ensuing conversation, I got offered a ride on their Ecuador-bound grain freighter. Unfortunately, I have a great girlfriend and an exploding garden to get back to so I had to turn them down. After breakfast I wandered back to the boat so that we can head up toward the Nass River fishing grounds, a trip that’ll take about six hours and put us within a stone’s throw of Alaska. Time to shove off!

During the trip, you can either check this blog for the latest entries, or you can go to this interactive map of all the blog posts related to this trip. You can also find photos from the trip on Flickr.

© 2011 Skipper Otto's Community Supported Fishery Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha