“Real Life” Science

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Both kids love their science classes in school, and Skyla often mentions wanting to be a marine biologist when she grows up. So when the field biologists from the Wild Fish Conservancy invited us to participate in some beach-seine sampling, as part of their project to assess juvenile salmon habitat around Puget Sound, we jumped at the opportunity. That’s the crew–James, Frank, Justin and Aaron–showing the kids how it all works on the first set.

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These guys were incredibly friendly and patient with the kids, happy to explain each process as they captured individual fish, measured and recorded them without harm, then placed them into another bucket for release once the netting was done. A great lesson in how science works in the field and the importance of consistent methodology.

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Once the kids were familiar with how it all worked, the guys put them to work. I don’t know how much actual “help” the kids provided, but it was a fantastic experience for the kids to feel like they were contributing.

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The abundance and variety of life captured in the seine impressed the kids, who are used to just observing from above the water while fishing. They caught juvenile chum, coho and pink salmon, cutthroat trout, a starry flounder, several varieties of sculpins, marine worms, shrimp…endless fascination. That’s Skyla, junior marine biologist, observing a coho salmon and cutthroat trout. Huge thanks to everyone at WFC, for making us feel like part of the crew, and for all the important work you’re doing to protect the fish we love.

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Salmon Superheroes

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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.


Hatchery vs Wild Talk

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With wild steelhead populations in Puget Sound hovering around 3% of historic numbers, and most of our beloved local rivers now closed during prime fishing times, there’s more than a little reason for concern. One of the main factors causing these precipitous declines is, somewhat counterintuitively, the hatcheries put in place to produce more salmon and steelhead. I will be talking about the high cost of hatcheries, both to the wild fish and tax paying citizens of the Pacific Northwest next week:

Northwest Fly Anglers October Meeting, Haller Lake Community Center, 12579 Densmore Avenue, Seattle 7:00pm, Thursday, October 16th. Non-members welcome.

If you’re concerned about our wild fish and shrinking fishing opportunities, or interested in learning what we can do to improve the situation, please come out to the meeting. I look forward to meeting you in person.

 


Motivation

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I took this picture a few years ago just outside Toyama, Japan. The guy was fishing for ayu, a small, delicious, smelt-like fish, where a concrete canal flowed into the sea. Like salmon, ayu live in salt water and run up rivers to spawn. I watched the fisherman work with great concentration and skill–he clearly knew what he was doing. After a while, I couldn’t resist, and approached him to talk fishing. Thankfully, he spoke a little English.

His bucket held three six-inch ayu–his haul for the entire day. But he was happy  with his catch. I asked him about other fishing, and he excitedly told me about salmon. My interest level ratcheted up a few notches. The rivers, he said, were heavily dammed to generate electricity and divert water into the famous Toyama rice fields. Some no longer even reach the sea. But there were still salmon there, he said, and they were his favorite fish to pursue.

As we talked about salmon, he grew even more excited, gesturing with his hands the way anglers around the world are known to do. “Last year,” he said, “very good salmon fishing!” I waited for him to find the right words. He continued, “I fish 37 days and hooked two salmon! Best year ever!”

A chill went down my spine. I don’t know that anything has ever hammered it home quite so powerfully: Conservation is not just a theoretical exercise; we need to work even harder to save what we have. Starting now.