Before returning home from the San Francisco reading, I got to pal around the East Bay with my mom, who, having just retired, had time to hang out and have fun. We ate lunch at a mind-blowingly good Japanese place in Berkeley (more on that later), then ran into one of her fellow recent retirees in Oakland. That’s Mom and her friend above, comparing notes on 401(k) payouts, social security, and upcoming shuffleboard tournaments.
Huge thanks to the terrific staff at Patagonia San Francisco for a great event. We had a full house, great food from Patagonia Provisions, beer, and a very enthusiastic crowd. I can’t even begin to express how uplifting these events are, and how much I’m enjoying them. And we still have more to come–if you’re near Seattle, Vancouver BC, or New York City, come on out and feel the love. Dates and times are on the website HERE.
Yvon said that if something happened to the building while this crew was in it, salmon would be doomed. I couldn’t agree more. For me it was an honor just to sit with these people–my heroes in wild salmon conservation–for an entire day, while plotting how Patagonia Provisions can best contribute to the effort. This is the Patagonia Provisions Wild Salmon Advisory Team.
In many ways it was a historical meeting of the minds; scientists, advocates, fishermen, authors and a commercial fish company (Provisions) working together to ensure a future for wild salmon. I can’t think of another salmon purveyor that’s ever spent this much money and effort to convene a group like this, or one that would act on their recommendations.
Back row: Nick Gayeski (Wild Fish Conservancy), Mark Kurlansky (author of Cod), Matt Stoecker (DamNation, Stoecker Ecological), Dr. Jack Stanford (Flathead Lake Biological Station), Jim Lichatowich (author of Salmon Without Rivers), Keith Carpenter (Lummi Island Wild), Aaron Hill (Watershed Watch), Bruce Hill (Skeena Wild), Lisa Pike-Sheehy (Patagonia).
Front Row: Birgit Cameron (Patagonia Provisions), James Farag (Patagonia Provisions), Jill Dumain (Patagonia), Misty MacDuffee (Rain Coast Conservation), Dr. Carol Ann Woody (Fisheries Research Consulting) , Me (blinded by the California sunshine and star power around me), Kurt Beardslee (Wild Fish Conservancy), Yvon Chouinard (Patagonia).
Heavyweights all. And with this group meeting annually, the future of wild salmon looks better and brighter. I felt lucky to be a part of it, and even luckier to call these people friends.
Whenever possible, I like to include Skyla and Weston in some of the work I’m doing. It’s a way for us to share some cool experiences and give the kids a little bigger view of the world. Fortunately, the people I was working with on Lummi Island share that point of view. Birgit, who runs Patagonia Provisions, brought her family along, as did James, who’s the product manager. The kids wasted no time in becoming fast friends, and they quickly descended on the tide pools in front of the house we stayed in.
I also wanted the kids to learn more about commercial salmon fishing, so we went out to the reef-net “gears,” and spent an afternoon doing what we could to be helpful. That’s Josh, the reef-netter, teaching Weston how to catch and bleed fish from the live tank. Huge thanks to the kind and exceptionally kid-friendly crews aboard the reef-net boats.
Later that day, I borrowed the Wild Fish Conservancy skiff to take the kids sport fishing. But the sudden appearance of harbor porpoises changed the objective. We followed them all the way across the channel, and ended up at a seal rookery, where dozens of mother and baby seals were hauled out on the rocks.
On another day, Keith and Riley, from the Lummi Island Wild salmon co-op, took us on their new tender to pick up fish from the outlying reef nets. The trip also doubled as an awesome tour of all the San Juan Islands, and included a stop for ice cream at Roche Harbor. (The looks on all the yachtie’s faces when a huge work boat pulled in amongst the fancy pleasure craft and released a pack of barefoot kids into their midst was priceless.) That’s Weston, Skyla, Claire and Gracie holding down the fish bins aboard the Galactic Ice.
But every time we came back to shore, the kids went immediately back to the tide pools. They built elaborate “habitats” in salad bowls and buckets to temporarily house the critters they found. While Birgit and James (from Provisions), Kurt and Nick (from Wild Fish Conservancy) and Riley and Keith (from Lummi Island Wild) and I discussed how this union of a commercial interest, a fish conservation NGO and fishermen can help save salmon, and Darcy (filmmaker) shot b-roll for her video of the reef netters, the kids absorbed themselves in sea life. When I went to check on them, I heard Skyla and Gracie shouting, “We have to improve the habitat! We have to improve the habitat!” A fitting sentiment, I thought, for the meeting going on inside.
The kids and I spent a few days up on Lummi Island this week, checking out what is quite possibly the most responsible, environmentally friendly commercial fishing enterprise in the world. The Lummi Island reef netters employ an ancient technique, where a net is suspended between two anchored boats; when the target species enters, the net is raised to capture them. The way it’s done on Lummi really sets the bar for low carbon footprint, zero by-catch and the highest quality fish.
First, the reef net boats–or “gears” as the whole array of lead lines, boats and nets is called–are anchored in place for the season. The main netting location is just a few hundred yards offshore, so the only energy used to fish is the tablespoon or so of gas it takes to get from the beach to the “gears” by skiff. When the crew arrives on the boats, the nets are lowered into place and fishing begins. The spotter climbs to the top of a tall platform, the headstand, and watches for fish entering the net. When he sees the right species and number of fish, he or she–30% of the Lummi Island crew is made up of women–shouts “TAKE ‘EM!” The net flies upward, powered by a series of solar-powered winches, the captured fish are released into a live-well, and the net is re-deployed. It takes less than a minute and the boat is back fishing.
The zero by-catch starts with the visual spotting of fish entering the net. If non-target species approach, the net is simply left in place, allowing the fish to continue their migration. If, by some small chance, a non-target species is captured in the net along with the target species, it is released completely unharmed. But in two days on the gears, I did not witness a single non-target species inadvertently netted.
Finally, the quality of fish caught by this method is unbelievable. The fish go directly from the net into a live-well with no handling, and stay there until the crew is ready to start processing. Each fish is lifted from the live-well by hand, and bled in another well. (The presence of blood in salmon flesh creates the majority of off flavors.) It then goes directly into an ice slurry, nearly untouched and completely free of blood. Unlike gill nets or seines, the other main commercial harvest techniques used in the area, reef-net fish are not bruised, caught by the gills, or abraded during any part of the process.
On a cultural level, we found none of the macho, us-against-nature mentality that sometimes develops in other commercial fishing fleets. To a man (or woman) everyone we met on the Lummi Island crew was exceptionally relaxed, welcoming and kind, with a clear sense of responsibility for the resource, and pride in what they were doing.
For the past several years, I’ve had the good fortune to work with Patagonia Provisions, the food division of Patagonia. It’s been an education, to say the least, with deep research into food and how it impacts our planet. Specifically, I get to dig into topics like free-range buffalo and the Great Plains, sustainable salmon-harvesting techniques, Tibetan food customs, organic agriculture, perennial wheat, etc.
From time to time, I leave my little island writing-and-research cave, and visit the Provisions office in person.
Last week was an extra special treat, as my meetings coincided with Chef Tracy On’s visit. Tracy is the magical chef at Patagonia Headquarters in Ventura (Provisions is in Sausalito) who turns out spectacular, healthy and sustainably sourced meals every work day at the main office. But this day, she was cooking just for us. That’s Chef Tracy on the right, and temporary Sous Chef Jenny Garcia (taking time off from her usual Provisions duties) serving lunch. What a meal. I always thought this was the right work for me. Now I’m sure.