Local Irony

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I believe that most of us in the community where we live are aware of the well-documented harm open-water salmon farms cause. We know salmon farms are the source of vast quantities of waste pollution, disease outbreaks, and parasites that all impact the marine environment and sea life passing by the net pens. We know large amounts of chemicals and antibiotics are required to keep the fish alive in such close quarters.

We know the flesh of farmed salmon would be gray if not for coloring added to their food, and disdain the bland taste and soft texture, not to mention the potential exposure to antibiotics and chemicals the fish are treated with. So it’s easy to boycott farmed salmon, and many of us do.

But what many of us don’t know is that there’s a large salmon farming facility right here in our own backyard. More specifically–and ironically–the American Gold Seafoods net pens are anchored directly within the Orchard Rocks Conservation Area. This is a place set aside by the state and made off limits to fishing and other harvest for the sole purpose of conserving a special habitat and the sea life that inhabits it.

It’s tough to understand how it’s even possible to combine a “Conservation” Area with an open-water salmon farm. The two are 180-degrees apart in purpose and execution. Instead of conserving anything, we have a commercial, for-profit salmon feedlot, and all its associated environmental problems, right in the middle of what should be considered a shared, public treasure. Sad.

In 2012, this fish farm was the site of the first recorded outbreak of IHN, an infectious, deadly (to fish) disease, in Washington waters. The result was that American Gold had to euthanize and remove their entire stock of salmon. According to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, the appearance of the disease was “a big concern for us,” because “you don’t fully understand the impact to wild fish.” And yet, the net pens are still there, packed full of yet another batch of non-native Atlantic salmon.

The feedlot concept doesn’t work for salmon, not when public resources like wild fish and clean water are endangered for the profit of a few. On a larger scale, the disease outbreak, the low quality of the fish produced, the enormous amounts of chemicals, antibiotics and fecal waste released into our shared waters, are all just further proof: When humans try to do something better than Mother Nature, they are destined to failure.

How do you feel about a company polluting our waters, risking our wild fish, and fouling our conservation area, for their own profit?


Dreaming Of Spring(ers)

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With the unusually warm winter we’ve had so far, it already feels like it’s been spring for weeks. The plants seem to agree–fruit trees are in full blossom, daffodils blooming, grass growing–all over the Island. Crazy. And while this weather pattern is a bit disconcerting, it also raises hopes that spring Chinook will be early this year as well.

Which, of course, has me thinking and plotting, as usual, way too early. But reports are already starting to roll in. I’ve heard of two caught in the Willamette and another one from the Columbia. It’s always the way. And like every other year, I have to work to tamp down my desire to head south with springer gear ready to go.

Last year, we were thinking the same thing. Hardly any snow in the mountains, warm winter, etc. Then in late February and March, winter came back with a vengeance. We made up our entire snowpack in about six weeks. And the springer fishing, as usual, didn’t really get good until April. But that still doesn’t stop me from dreaming, mouth watering, of Columbia springers. Even here in February.


Winter Birds

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One of the real joys of walking down our road to pick up the paper and mail each morning is the birds. For the last few weeks, small groups of ruby-crowned kinglets–my favorite bird–have been hopping around the salal and salmonberries and my 10-minute walk frequently turns into more like half an hour. I just can’t stop watching these little guys. They’re pretty much unafraid of humans, so you can get really close, and their behavior always lifts my spirits.

The other day, I saw the kinglets and ran back to grab my camera. Of course, I couldn’t get a decent shot–they move far too quickly for my morning reflexes and crappy little point-and-shoot. So I just pocketed the camera, watched until the kinglets flew deeper into the woods, and continued my walk.

Then something buzzed past me with a mechanical whir and full doppler effect, like a tiny helicopter or hovercraft zipping by. I looked around and saw a blur of motion, so fast I could barely track it. Until it lit on this branch. With the light coming from behind, I couldn’t make out any colors, but my guess is that it’s an Anna’s hummingbird, which, like the local Canada geese, has stopped migrating. Some say global warming, others attribute our winter Anna’s to the popularity of hummingbird feeders, but they now hang out here year round.

Whatever the reason, they’re pretty cool to watch. And if they land, they’re much easier to snap a picture of than the hyperactive kinglets.

Anyway, this snapshot reminded me of a kind of blurred Nikki McClure paper cut. And just watching it zooming around, along with the kinglets, made for a great start to the day.


Soul Food

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Well…at least my kind of soul food. This is my version–handed down, modified, personalized–of the Japanese-American and Hawaiian staple: fried rice. I usually cook extra rice for a weekend meal, then use the leftovers to make this for a quick weeknight dinner. Kids love it. And so do grownups.

Our version is pretty simple: I dice up some good thick bacon and cook until crisp. Then remove the crispy bacon bits and reserve in a bowl for later use. Add diced yellow onions to the pan and cook until translucent and slightly browned. Remove and store in the bowl with bacon bits. Remove most of the bacon fat from the pan, leaving a couple teaspoons in for flavor. Add enough steamed rice (we like a mix of Lundberg Brown & Wild and Japanese white rice, cooked ahead of time) to fill the pan. Sprinkle with garlic salt, black pepper and a bit of soy sauce to taste. “Sambal” chile paste is pretty good, too. Stir until thoroughly mixed, then allow rice to crisp on the bottom. For me, it’s this crispy, chewy texture that really makes it awesome. Turn occasionally. Add cooked bacon, onions and some mixed frozen veggies (cooked ahead of time) to the pan.

Served with a couple of over-easy eggs and wholewheat sourdough toast, I could eat this every week. In fact, that’s what we’ve been doing for several weeks in a row. Or now that I think about it, we might be going on several months. And I’m already looking forward to next week’s batch.


Portland Redemption

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On a more uplifting note: While the “Hatchery vs Wild” symposium disappointed, Portland food does not. So I, along with some Patagonia buddies and various other fish conservationists, drowned our sorrows in good eats. Did somebody say food trucks? I am always blown away by the variety and quality of grub found in the vaunted Portland food vehicles. Teriyaki? Falafel? Pad thai? Curry? Pizza? Chile Colorado? Kalua pig? Who could decide? I like to think of a row of food trucks as a kind of long, outdoor buffet table. Why choose just one?

That’s me, fighting off despair. Spam musubi, anyone? Nothing soothes frayed nerves–at least for me–like salt, sugar, fat and pork byproducts. It was a good start.

Finally, on the way out of town, McCoy and I stopped by another iconic Portland food source to grab a little Voodoo “for the kids.” And speaking of salt, sugar, fat and pork byproducts, did you know they make bacon maple bars? Let me repeat: Bacon. Maple. Bar. As in slices of crispy bacon on top of maple frosting on top of chewy fried dough. But really, it was just for the kids…

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