Staring at our empty freezer, smoker and fish fridge was doing little good. So in a last-ditch effort to make up for the “lost” harvesting time we spent in BC (lots of harvesting, nothing hauled home), and with our local king salmon season closed, I had to head to the Southwest Washington coast. In all reality, it was mostly just a good excuse to spend some time on the water with my great friend Sweeney, but stacking a few fish wouldn’t hurt, either.
We hit the jackpot. Absolutely crazy good fishing with hordes of nice silvers, a few fat hatchery kings, and very liberal local catch limits. Plus, calm seas, no crowds and good company, all on familiar waters…couldn’t ask for a better late-season harvest. A great couple of days. And a huge relief to have a fish box stacked to the top.
And then, the reality of processing all that fish set in. But I’m stoked to do it. The first batch already came out of the smoker, more brining now, ikura (salmon caviar) curing and a couple of fresh salmon meals under our belts. Just warmed up the new vac-sealer, too. A lot of work, but so many great meals ahead. Did I mention the relief? Whew!
As we readjust to 21st century Puget Sound, we are happy to find some abundance here at home. It’s been a fantastic crab season (we soaked some pots while going on our “Island Circumnavigation” adventure), and the rain a couple weeks ago brought up some early chanterelles. This convergence of species called for some kind of combination dinner.
Here are the ingredients. I think this is the first time, at least for us, we’ve had the crustaceans and fungi at the same time. And as I thought about it, a simple mixture of the two seemed to make more and more sense.
At Weston’s request, I had already bought some halibut for a panko fish fry, a reminder of his great halibut catch up north. Some Lundberg brown & wild mixed with regular Japanese rice and fresh bush beans rounded out the meal. But back to the crab and chanterelles–we sauteed crab meat and mushrooms with a little garlic and butter. Delicious combo. Some ate it as intended, as a topping for the halibut “katsu,” but I wanted to eat it all by itself. Will definitely make this one again.
Yes, I’m shifting gears and going completely off subject here, but when the food fishing gets tough, the tough head into the city. Which is to say, we finally made it to the High Temple of All Soup Dumplings: Din Tai Fung. After a little family crabbing and a fun circumnavigation of the island in our boat, which I’d never done before, we took the ferry to Seattle for my birthday dinner at DTF. Man, was I stoked.
After all the years of thinking about it, and being scared off by reported three-hour waits, and watching Anthony Bourdain on TV saying DTF had the best soup dumplings in the world, all I can say is that it did not disappoint. In fact, the whole experience was even better than I dreamed. Those soup dumplings! Delicate, perfectly steamed pasta holding an amazing savory pork broth and ground pork with ginger, garlic and who knows what else. Easily the best soup dumplings I’ve ever had (even better than the ones we had at a little hole-in-the-wall in Richmond, BC) and in fact, one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. Period.
And it wasn’t just the soup dumplings. Pretty much everything (except the hot and sour soup) was incredible. The shrimp shumai, filled with the same broth and pork combo on the bottom and topped with a layer of shrimp that held the soup in; the cucumber salad with kimchee-like marinade; the bean-curd and bean-sprout salad, the chicken with handmade noodles…every dish a unique and serious explosion of flavor. The secret, we discovered, is to go at off hours…we went ahead of the early dinner crowd and only waited seven minutes. Happy, happy birthday dinner. And I’m already dreaming of my triumphant return!
As we adjust back to the relative austerity of our home waters, I will attempt to catch back up with life in Puget Sound, circa 2014. When we left British Columbia, I said something like, “Nah, we don’t need to haul any fish home, king salmon season is just starting around the Island. We’ll stock up quickly.” Upon our return, we made two quick trips in search of kings and stocked up on…well, this beautiful sunrise. Then, the state closed the king fishery down early due to the quota being filled, and there you have it: No kings for us.
First time since we moved here that we haven’t harvested any local king salmon. I’m now staring at a sadly empty smoker, fridge and freezer. The new vac-sealer I bought for king season sits in its box unopened. And I dream of all those fat, delicious fish we left up in BC.
Missing our local harvest is a small price to pay, really, for the experience of a lifetime. And the fish we boated in BC went to good use with Bruce, Steve, Gerald and their families. Still, a few chunks of that halibut and salmon in the freezer would be pretty nice. Good thing we aren’t a real subsistence family or I’d be in a panic. Now we just have to make the best of other options. We’ll haul out the crab pots and hope for a great run of ocean silvers. And in the mean time, I think I’m going to have to travel a bit farther afield in search of king salmon.
It isn’t all fun and games on the British Columbia coast. Hard to believe, but the threat of destruction hovers over all those miles of untouched beaches, steep spruce-covered islands, and the incredible abundance of marine life.The array of disastrous industrial projects proposed for the North Coast is staggering.
The Enbridge Pipeline, designed to carry up to 800,000 barrels of oil a day from the Tar Sands to the coast, and another 200,000 barrels of toxic, explosive “condensate”–a byproduct of the Asian oil fields used to melt the thick bitumen–from the coast to the Tar Sands, would run right down the landslide- and avalanche-prone Skeena watershed. It will cross the headwaters of both the Fraser and Skeena rivers, the two largest salmon rivers in Canada. Of course, Enbridge says it’s safe, but I imagine they said that about their pipelines in Wisconsin and Kalamazoo and every one of the hundreds of places on their spill tally. The hubris here–Or is it flat-out bald-faced lying?–is breathtaking in its audacity. Just check out the list of Enbridge accidents from Reuters HERE and decide how much faith you have in their claims.
All that oil has to go somewhere once it gets to the coast, too. Which means up to 220 oil-laden tankers navigating a treacherous maze of fjords, reefs and islands each year. Navigation here makes Prince William Sound look like a cakewalk. This is a region known for it’s extreme tidal currents and weather, with 100-foot waves recorded in the not-so-distant past. Just last week, in broad daylight and calm weather, a bulk transport ship about the size of an oil tanker, hit a rock in Prince Rupert harbor, breached its hull and nearly sank.
Then there are the 14 Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) plants currently proposed for the North Coast. Chevron has already cleared land and moved part of a mountain for their plant just outside Kitimaat, and Royal Dutch Shell is proposing one three times bigger in the same area. The Petronas LNG plant at the mouth of the Skeena would require dredging the vast eel grass beds that help make the Skeena such a productive salmon watershed. And yes, every LNG plant will require a pipeline to get their fracked gas from the interior to the coast, and more tankers to haul it away.
All that stands between this magnificent ecosystem and the disasters that would destroy it, should the oil corporations have their way, are the heroic measures of local First Nations and a handful of overworked conservation organizations. David and Goliath come to mind. But the little guys can win this war; there’s simply too much at stake to lose, and they’re fighting as if their lives depended on it. Which in the case of the First Nations people, isn’t far from the truth.
Perhaps you will never visit the north coast of BC. Or it’s so far away, it has little impact on your life. But here’s what I think: When this piece of truly wild coast is gone, the last destination of our northward time machine will go with it. When we want to understand what our home waters were like 100 years ago, or see what natural abundance should look like, our only choice will be the local public library. And I’m not ready for that. The Haisla say this place is a gift to all humanity. I would add that it’s gift we all need to know is there, whether we ever visit in person or not.
For more info about the efforts to preserve the north coast of British Columbia, check out these organizations and consider making a donation: SkeenaWild Conservation Trust, Pacific Wild, Raincoast Conservation Foundation, and the Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition.