Musings about Tides and Currents

The puzzling movement of large logs on a king tide.

We turn off Sutil Channel into Quadra Island’s Drew Harbour. The place is empty so we have our choice of anchorage. After studying the chart, observing the surface currents, surveying the contours of the land, and predicting the winds through the trees, we drop anchor on a bump off Rebecca Spit.

We find it the perfect anchorage. This is later confirmed by a couple of sailors who had watched us spin peacefully throughout the gale-force winds which battered their similarly sized-boat tied up nearby at the Heriot Bay Public Wharf.

Rebecca Spit 1
As the king tide peaks and carries the beach logs off Rebecca Spit, we can see across Sutil Channel to Cortes Island and Desolation Sound beyond.

In the late afternoon we stand on deck. Through a break in the trees on the spit we can look across the white-capped channel to Cortes Island and the mountains of Desolation Sound beyond. As the sun sets, the winds stop, the tide peaks, and the salt logs lining the lovely curve of the spit, creep into the water. Over a hundred of them, large and small, float throughout Drew Harbour, glistening a rich brown in the setting sun. Then as the tide peaks, they all return to our curve of the spit. The whole show lasts about 90 minutes.

RebeccaSpit 2
Soon the logs from Rebecca Spit float throughout Drew Harbour!

With the same tide height predicted for the next evening, albeit it an hour later, I persuade Jack to stay up and watch the curious journey of the logs. But this time, it doesn’t happen! There’s some modest log movement off a more southern part of the spit, but yesterday’s logs merely floated briefly before falling back into place.

My Otis Redding frame of mind.

When you’re in an Otis Redding frame of mind “watching the tide roll in” and then “roll away again,” you realize a lot is going on. The interplay of tide, current, depths, heights, and wind is a wondrous mystery.

Isolated logs may be encountered anywhere when you’re underway. They may bounce up on steep waves on when the wind is against current in Johnstone’s Strait. They may float calmly, transporting a dozen gulls or a long bald eagle. We have seen a harbor seal using one to haul out while moving on with the tide.

The rule is if you see one log, you keep an intense lookout for others. And when you see others, you know there are more.

I used to think that logs escaped log booms or slid off barges – which they do, of course – but most of them probably move around under their own steam, or rather, under the power of Nature. They fall in the forest, sometimes over streams. They may be the remains of an cannery that has been decaying since salmon runs nearly collapsed at mid-century. They may simply be among the salt logs which group and regroup along the shores in the spring tide zone. They may be new growth trees a foot-and-a half-or two in diameter or huge old growth trees.  In Tidal Passages, Jeannette Taylor’s history of the Discovery Islands, there’s a picture of the Beyers family in front of a fresh log from Von Donop Inlet that is 17 feet in diameter!

Three years ago, coming south from Alaska, I remember tucking into the Broughtons, among the most pristine waters of the coast. Just before Echo Bay we found our passage littered with logs of all shapes and sizes. We motored slowly, weaving in and out of them. Fortunately, the thick morning fog had burned off making the logs starkly visible in the noon sun, which must have coincided with a king tide. I need to check the data on that.

Lots of data!

Back in Port Townsend a bunch of scientists, along with my friend Dave who specializes in marine weather, are studying the way King Tides hit Port Townsend shores. As part of a broad Washington Sea Grant study to predict the impact of the month’s highest tides on sea level rise, they’re feeding data into a broad study. They use some simple sophisticated equipment and also rely on ordinary citizens who monitor the same tides with their cameras. What a wealth of new information there is in photographs stamped with time and GPS coordinates! Maybe we’ll figure this out.

Although flows of water may be riddled with riddles, there is a lot of data. It’s been accumulating since Newton. As I understand it, repeated 18 year series of observations now make it easy to pinpoint the two daily ebbs and flows that characterize our area. Our Ports and Passes manual for 2017 Tides and Currents for Washington Inside Waters, British Columbia and Southeast Alaska is 622 pages long. It’s based on research by the Canadian Hydrographic Service, which cooperates with NOAA (and registers the “negative tides” of the US as the commonsensical “zero tides” of Canada.)

Tides and currents are of course very different. Tides are measured vertically although water flows horizontally. As for currents, let’s not go there now. If you want to see the types of questions they throw up for a mariner, just keyword search the blog for “currents”.

What about non-watery currents and tides?

Thought tides and conceptual currents figure in the way we consider and talk about other realities. Is there any order there?

It seems to me that tides are broad movements. Take gold rushes. There were so many of them along the coasts of the Americas! A gold rush is something that takes root in the minds of many to draw physical tides of people from many locations into a single quest.  The past couple of years have brought to European shores tides of refugees, people embedded with compelling notions of freedom or survival.

As in Nature, non-watery tides certainly interact with currents. But currents are sharper, less superficial than tides. They cut vertically. They help explain some of the fault lines in a society. Are the evolving notions of working class and middle class currents in conflict? What about the knife-edged current of contemporary “bathroom bills” that slices through the rising tide of human rights victories for LGBLT folks?



Voices of Comox

“Here! You should read this!”

Suddenly, a light blue paperback is thrust before me by a set of hands turning open the cover and luring me in. “You’ll love it.” The woman who’s sidled up up next me goes on, “Stories by 34 women who lived in Haida Gawai and other parts of the North Coast in the 60s and 70s. I’m Jane,” she says, snapping the volume shut and pointing to her name on the title page, “And I got these women to write about their lives.”

We’re at Blue Heron Books in Comox. On arrival I’d greeted the saleslady, telling her how good it was to be back and inquiring what about new titles for our shipboard library. Hidden in the art supplies corner overhearing our exchange is Jane Wilde, who masterminded a unique look at a period and place. By the time I check out Gumboot Girls: Adventure, Love and Survival on the British Columbia’s North Coast a is signed and waiting for me at the cash register.

Jane’s right. Great book. In our three days on the hook off Rebecca Spit I devour it along with Grant Lawrence’s Adventures in Solitude, stories of life in Desolation Sound over the past 50 years. Serendipitous companion volumes.

“When are you going to get rid of your president?”

At the Salvation Army store next to Blue Heron, I find a treasure trove of used forks, teaspoons, chowder spoons, and so many knives that I choose only the smaller bistro style ones. Ten cents each. When I’m ready to pay up, I spread I spread everything out on the glass jewelry case. The clerk wonders if I’m organizing an outdoor wedding, “Nope. This is to help save the Salish Sea! We’re getting rid of plastic at the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival.” With so many schools and organizations going plastic free it’s hard to find good utensils I tell her. And yes I’ve left enough behind for a couple of households.

My colors revealed, my fellow shopper voices her distress. She looks a typical Port Townsend progressive. But she’s Canadian and Canadians are taking Trump really hard. They need reassurance.

Slowly and surely the wheels of justice are turning, I say. Meanwhile look at what’s happening at the state and local levels. People in the US are awake, learning the ins and outs of government and taking it back. State legislatures are stepping up to salvage social justice and climate action. And communities everywhere are launching new initiatives to strengthen democracy and local resilience.

“I’ve been here forty years and this was the worst winter yet.”

Jack and I are in line at the Comox Valley Harbour Authority to pay for another day’s moorage at the Fishermans Wharf we can enjoy the Sailfish catamaran races.
The sun is intense. The joy is palpable. Kids skip. Bounces in the steps of sandaled feet. Skin and ink everywhere. The weather out of the northwest seems to have finally vanquished the the unbroken wintry systems from the southeast.

The man ahead of us, shakes his head with a smile. He’s fished these waters – commercially – his entire career. Winter was bad. No, it wasn’t just imagination. Not just aging joints complaining. “Do you remember how it started? Before the end of September? Not a decent stretch of a few days until now.”

The wharf on the seawall had music and a beer garden, the perfect place to watch the Seafest multi-hull races, which featured everything from professional trimarans to small cats crewed by very agile teenagers.


For Kinza: Books

If there is anyone who has documented her travels, it’s my friend Kinza. As I’ve had the good fortune to take trips with her, or at least follow in her recommended footsteps around Manhattan, Morocco and Yemen, her accounts are treasures. I have files of her writing, both electronic and paper. New hard copy acquisitions come every year with her expressions of gratitude, compassion and encouragement, notes written in her tiny, regular hand.

Kinza doesn’t blog, which is unfortunate as her passion is immigration and refugee rights, vital issues about which few know anything. And she doesn’t normally read blogs, which is understandable as she works with people up against unbelievable challenges and shows no sign of ever stopping. But Kinza says she appreciates knowing what books I am reading. So this list is for her.

For the onboard library that helps us understand what we’re experiencing along the Inside Passage, I take four new books from Port Townsend add three more en route.

Toward the peaceful solitude of Desolation Sound

A beautiful book that should be welcome on every boat and coffee table in our region is Salish Sea: Jewel of the Pacific Northwest by Audrey DeLella Benedict and Joseph K. Gaydos. I heard Joe speak at the annual meeting of the Port Townsend Marine Science Center (PTMSC) this spring and all the excitement he generated in the room comes across in these pages. This is recent science in colorful, jaw-dropping prose and photography.

Whelks to Whales: Coastal Marine Life of the Pacific Northwest by Rick Harbo (Harbour Publishing, Maderia Park, 2011). This inexpensive, fully color illustrated, easy to use handbook lists species phylum by phylum. I’ll have it in hand to answer visitors’ questions at the PTMSC and whenever cruising on the boat. The only thing missing are the birds that join the seals and cetaceans as marvelously efficient deep sea divers.

John K.B. Ford’s Marine Mammals of British Columbia is a 460-page handbook published by the Royal BC Museum in 2014 that brings up to date this exploding field of mammalian research. Readable, heavily illustrated,and referenced with a 20 page bibliography this is a much needed addition to our onboard library. I pick it up for $28 Canadian at the wonderful general store in Lund so we could read about elephant seals. We learn that elephants dive deeper and stay down longer than other seals or sea lions, surfacing for very short periods of time, floating snouts in the air, motionless. “Mariners often mistake elephant seals for floating logs.” Ah ha!

Spirited Water: Soloing South Through the Inside Passage by Bellingham kayak outfitter Jennifer Hahn is a mixed bag. The author thrives on the solitude of nature but feels weirdly vulnerable to stranger danger. While there is little to learn here about tides, currents, chart reading or navigation, the author’s insights on river otters and on forging are brilliant. There’s lots on catching and eating sea urchins though the approach of French cuisine is not covered. I remember our daughters digging into a platter of two dozen served by Papillon, the ancient, diminutive waiter at Chalet de la Plage in Essaouria. The kids were still aged in the single digits and fascinated by eating live food. The urchins had been cleaned, however, although they were raw and the wriggling spikes of the upside shells moved them across our plates. I wonder. Are there Pacific Northwest foodies who prepare urchins this way? As for eating salmon, Hahn is reluctant. On pp. 242-243 she puts to prose the sentiments expressed by  Matt, the former fisherman at Homfray Lodge.

From this week’s volunteer “lighthouse keepers” on Stuart Island I buy a copy of  The History of Stuart Island (2012) The stories, photos and documents are the source material for the two museums on this northernmost of the San Juan Islands. Resident author James Berquist has done a good job putting everything together in this 183-page volume he considers a “work in progress”.

Finally, another book to shuttle between house and boat is Aldona Jonaitis’ Art of the Northwest Coast, which catches my eye on the shelf at the U’Mista Cultural Center. The volume is smartly laid out with hundreds of large colored well captioned plates and text by Native and non-native experts which captures the historical and geographic sweep of the subject. Finally I’m getting a grasp on the various linguistic groups and their interactions. Published by the University of Washington, the work does rare justice to the southernmost tribes and even to their textile arts; I remember trying my hand at Salish band braiding as a ten-year old. Good to learn mainstream museums are moving more and more pieces into their permanent exhibits. Even better that Kawkwaka’wakw, especially, have revived the potlatch and continue to design new masks, coppers and regalia.

Anyone who cruises the Inside Passage and knows anything about George Vancouver’s 1792 expedition is awestruck by its accomplishments: enormous swatches of the coast – both the Inside Passage and the west coast of Vancouver Island – documented in startlingly accurate maps in one season! How did they do it? Add expeditionary zeal to a skillful crew of highly specialized members managed in a tight hierarchy, with teams rowing long boats into every nook and cranny of the coast. Somehow many of these crew members found the time and wherewithal to write. Editor Richard Blumenthal has brought together these various eyes on the situation. With Vancouver in Inland Washington Waters contains excerpts from the journals of 12 crewmen written from April to June 1792. Jack reads all of them and sends me to the writings of Peter Puget. Why? Because Puget describes, with delicious delight, discovering under the sands of a drying lagoon on the southeast corner of Indian Island, “our” rich, dependable vein of native littleneck clams!

Of the remaining books I’ve piled onto the boat, I sadly do not get to Paul Stammets’ Mycelium Running nor to rereading Christopher Alexander’s Pattern Language, which I now own, having first read Paul’s copy, probably some thirty odd years after he did. These are high on my list and I welcome anyone who wants to join me in a mini online book club.

I thought Rob Hopkins was going to talk patterns in The Transition Companion: Making your community more resilient in uncertain times, an un-cracked volume  mislaid in our move from Portland. Published in 2011, it’s a bit disappointing and I don’t see patterns. I soldier through, however, unearthing some ingenious techniques and unearthing references to “my” groups, Transition PDX and Local 20/20.

Now two books I really like which I’m not going into here because I will elsewhere. The Origin of Feces is by David Waltner-Toews, the founder of Canada’s Veternarians without Borders. This is his big picture book – free of unnecessary footnotes and citations. After all Waltner-Toews has published extensively on everything from natural selection to cattle feeding operations to the recent rash of food-borne – make that shit-borne – epidemics.  The Origin of Feces: What Excrement Tells Us About Evolution, Ecology and a Sustainable Society lives up to its subtitle. Everyone will love this book. The other book is Bathroom by Barbara Penner, so titled as one of a series that includes Bridge, Chair, Computer, Dam, etc.  But it’s a sweeping history of hygiene and the material culture and architecture that make it possible. And Penner is especially good on all the discomfort and contradictions that come into play once flush toilets go mainstream in the early 20th century.

View from a favorite reading spot: Shoal Bay
View from a favorite reading spot: Shoal Bay

By now you may be asking, “You’re on summer vacation and you’re not reading fiction? What’s up?” Well, I’m listening to it. Listening nicely complements the many small responsibilities that go with cruising yet without the distractions of being online or having a phone or being at home.

My top favorites remain the two works of historical fiction I mentioned earlier: The Sympathizer, by Viet Thanh Nguyen, which I read on Jack’s recommendation and Kamel Daoud’s Mersault Investigation – Camus’ L‘Etranger reinterpreted from the point of view of the brother of “the Arab” – which Jack reads on my recommendation. I’d preordered the latter along with The Book of Forgiving by Desmond and Mpho Tutu, so got to “read” them hot off the press.

Looking though my audible library I see that the rest of the books I’ve finished are all Audible Daily Deals that cost from 99c to $3.99. Such pricing makes it easier to set them aside should they not live up to expectations.  In April and May I added some great titles to my library, unlike the “summer reading” titles offered this month.

I end up with some great non fiction that works well without the footnotes. Alex Kotiowitz’ There are no Children follows two African American brothers and their intrepid mother who live in packed household in a Chicago housing project. It’s that same powerful blend of anthropology, journalism, and memoire of Oscar Lewis’ Children of Sanchez.  And I loved Heinrich Harrer’s straightforward telling of the story of his Seven Years in Tibet as well as the short message from the Dalai Lama that precedes it.

How Remarkable Women Lead: The Breakthrough Model for Work and Life is based on interviews by McKinsey consultants Joanna Barsh and Susie Cranston relies with women from all over the world, from Christine LaGarde to NGO leaders in Africa. The five elements of what the authors call Centered Leadership – meaning, framing, connecting, engaging, and energizing–to work – reveal universal aspects of leadership that studies of male leaders have missed. The Formula: How Algorithms Solve all our problems…and create more by Fast Company writer Luke Dormehl really keeps my attention. The algorithimization of life fascinates the researcher in me while the specter of formulas creating reality creeps me out.

Finally the odd books: I think that Asif Mandvi’s reading of his genuinely funny essays tell far more about the complex culture-crossings of Muslim South Asians than any academic analysis. No Man’s Land is a great listen. As for Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire, I thought I had read it but instead must have gotten mixed up in the onslaught of literary reviews in 1962, when I paid attention to such things. Marc Vietor’s narration is brilliant and now I’m ordering a hard copy so I can read the poem, giggle along with all those erudite citations, and learn some new stuff.  Without looking everything up on line. On our next unplugged cruise, it’ll stowed away.  Pale Fire is still very hot.

A Grid of Civic Engagement

The other day at a communal table at The Backdoor, one of Sitka’s venerable coffee shops, I was invited into a most interesting conversation between Bonnie, a widow, retired pulp factory employee and sometimes commercial fisherman, and Steve, a permanent resident four years transplanted from Denver.  “She knows everything,” said Steve, urging me to listen.  I had been leafing through a hundred and twenty years of historic photos that a loving customer had long ago organized into a plastic presentation book and placed on a pile of locally authored books about Sikta.
Bonnie and her husband had both arrived in the late 1950s, built their house before their were roads, water, sanitation or electricity, fished commercially on the side – she still has a permit, but it’s linked to the boat and she’s reluctant to let anybody fish without her on board.  Her husband served on the Assembly, elected many times over after an initial appointment. The Assembly is city council, now the combined government of what is grandly known as the City and Borough of Sitka.  “Thank God, we got that worked out,” says Bonnie.  “They are still struggling with two governments in Ketchikan.”  Twin governments in small compact communities accessible only by air or sea requires coordination and leaks time, talent and dollars.

Having spent a morning looking at Sitka websites trying to puzzle out the remarkable web of local organizations, I comment on the high level of civic engagement, something that is so often missing in rural communities of the lower 48 where people zoom around among WalMarts and big boxes, to the neglect of village economies and cultures.   As geographic isolation seems like a boon to community, I make a comment to that effect and refer to Sikta as “off the grid.”

“Oh, no,” Bonnie corrects me, “We are the grid. In fact, we’re  self sufficient in electricity. It seems that Sitka enjoys two very good hydro projects. Rather than obstruct salmon streams, the “blue dam” and the “green dam” catch glacier melt high above the city.  They came on line in the early 1980s and were locally financed, with bonds guaranteed by the pulp factory. “Pulp factories require electricity, although they recycle a lot of energy as well.”   Electrical generation penciled out nicely and profits were carefully reinvested from the outset.  Bonnie reminds us of the high interest rates which created a fund she associates with Sitka’s sustained well-being.

Fish Politics

Intro to an ongoing reflection on a key issue of our day

Cruising is an opportunity to use time generously and seek knowledge differently. It’s a chance to ask questions and to take the time to talk to people you meet, to hone questions so you can make good use of rare opportunities to use the Internet or to visit libraries.

Trollers on Neva Strait

One big set of questions carried over from last year involve fish as food and the political economy of fishing. ......

What exactly are the issues that seem to be tearing apart communities?   What’s with those Prince Rupert fishing families who hate fish farming with a such a vengeance?  What about the commercial fishermen in Sitka who refer to sports fishing guides as “charter scum” and called them even worse a few years ago.   And what about Native people lamenting the loss of their shellfish to the protected sea otters, that they alone can hunt but whose pelts that cannot legally take to market?

After another six weeks in fishing communities this summer, I confess to being nowhere on my fish politics.   Fishing is at the heart of Alaskan politics and in the hearts of Alaskans who feel the pain and loss the BP sea floor gush has wracked on the communities in the Gulf of Mexico.    I just know that the issues are unfathomly complex and cut across predictable orientations.  So far my political analysis goes little deeper than noticing the bumper stickers on fisherman’s cars in the harbor parking lot.  The whole time in Alaska, I saw only one McCain-Palin sticker and it was coupled with the terse four-word classic –  CUT – KILL – DIG  – DRILL –  as well as a whole set of fairly nasty right wing ones.  But the worst stereotypes of Alaska are hardly prevalent in Southeast.  (By the way, parking lot slide show includes dogs.   Dogs in Alaska seem to stay put untethered; you often encounter them peering down patiently from the roofs of the cabs of their owners’ pickups.)

Seiners in Sitka Harbor

When the conversation is about the depletion of stocks, the dying of seaside communities, the dangers and risks of commercial fishing,and the very different dangers and risks of fish farming, it seems our duty as consumers to engage wholly, to figure it out.  Please be patient with my attempts to do so.

Paul Greenberg and his Four Fish

After hearing Terry Gross interview Paul Greenberg, Four Fish:  The Future of the Last Wild Food, I realize I need to read his book.    Greenberg looks at salmon, tuna, bass and cod, the fish that have  fallen victim to our dams and to the “global sushi binge”.  He asks us to get rid of the term seafood (fruits de mer) as it implies that we have the right to just reach down and take).  He begs us to start thinking of fish as wildlife, as animals to be protected rather than consumed.

Says Greenberg, “The way humans have used fish, we started inland and moved further and further offshore. Salmon represent that first step. Salmon spawn in freshwater rivers. They’re nearby. And we have this very close interaction with them where we live. So they were one of the first fish that we really hit hard with industrialization. Dams and pollution and all of these different things caused wide-scale extirpation of salmon, particularly Atlantic salmon, throughout their range. And now what we’ve seen is, salmon was really the first large-scale domestication project for the fish that we eat. There are many more farmed salmon in the world than wild salmon, and it’s a kind of replacement of a wild-food system with a domestic-food system that has started to kind of be kind of a model moving forward.”

Four Fish is a timely and insightful book; try this meaty excerpt.

Update: Conversation with Paul Greenberg

Back home in Portland on August 10, I had the chance to hear Greenberg speak at Powell’s.  After a short intro and a passage or two from Four Fish, Greenberg turned the floor over to his well-informed audience, largely made up of commercial and sports fishermen and chefs.
Greenberg started by explaining his book’s title. In doing research, he waded through old menus from 19th century New York restaurants.   Among the offerings were dozens of sorts of game, fowl and fish.  In contrast, today’ menus seldom offer more than four kinds of meat (beef, pork, lamb and perhaps goat) and four kinds of fowl (chicken, turkey, duck and goose).  As the biodiversity of the wild food of the sea becomes diminished, we are seeing the domination of four fish: salmon, cod, bass, and tuna.  In the book he traces each of the fish through wildness and domestication.  fast.
Then came some hard hitting points:
  • World catch has remained a fairly constant 80-90 million tons
  • World population has doubled.
  • The amount of fish American are eating has doubled.
  • We’re marketing and eating the large fish rather than the ones farther down on the chain.
  • “The consumer has led us to the Boneless Era.” Boneless fish is in demand everywhere.
As for cod, the fisheries collapsed in North America in the 80s and so the East Coast cod banks were closed.  Now cod are slowly coming back – Greenberg caught one recently within view of the Empire State Building – and there’s pressure to open the fisheries.  Pollock fishermen insist they middle trawl, that is they drag their nets neither near the surface not on the bottom, but Greenberg says there is evidence to the contrary.   Another issue with this type of cod is that pollack eat pollack.
Of course, Atlantic Salmon are key for Greenberg, who fishes in the waters near his New York city home. In fifty years all the wild ones disappeared.  Today all Atlantic salmon are farmed.  And there are rather terrifying developments in transgenic salmon.   The introduction of a Chinook gene into farmed salmon has created a monster that grows twice as big twice as In defending their genetic engineering, Aqua Bounty points out that three pounds of forged fish are currently needed to produce one pound of salmon.  The company claims that transgenic monster fish will not deplete forage fish stocks as much.
As for  fish farming:
  • It’s fairly new, launched in the US by former Peace Corps volunteers who had worked in Africa.
  • Since there are no wild salmon south of the equator, Chilean farmers do not have to face issue of whether farmed salmon can compromise wild stocks.
  • Farmed striped bass is a hybrid.
  • A positive development in fish farming is polyculture in which salmon, mussels, sardine and sea cucumbers might all be farmed together.
In response to a question about programs to certify fish as sustainable, Greenberg says be aware of two ecologies at work.  First is the wildness of the ocean, where  you are never sure what the catch will be.  Second is supermarket demand, which is certain and growing.
“What about hatcheries?,” someone asked.  Greenberg says they are understandable on the damned Columbia but questionable in Alaska, as it is not sure necessary and they certainly reduce genetic diversity.
Several folks asked about Alaska’s Pebble Mine, at the headwaters of Bristol Bay.  The mine promises yield of $300 billion in gold, molybdenum and copper, whereas Bristol Bay salmon is valued at $300 million per year.  Injunction and court order on this case will come in November.  Action to stop mine is led by  Save Bristol Bay.  The mine is on tribal lands, but tribes are split between for, against and not taking a stand.
Update:  Ah ha!   It’s wild chum we’ve been eating.

The food section of The Oregonian for August 17, 2010 brings an article lauding “keta salmon” The sometimes maligned “chum”, or “dog” salmon, this fish combines affordability, sustainability and flavor.
My online dictionary large North Pacific salmon that is commercially important as a food fish. The unfamiliar name comes from the Latin genus Oncorhyncus keta, family Salmonidae.   This solves the mystery of how I’ve been buying wild salmon for $3.999 a pound, occasionally less on special.  In fact, the Kroger supermarket QFC, where we shopped in Port Hadlock, is specifically mentioned as an outlet; Fred Meyer is part of the same group.   But try to find wild chum among the vastly more costly chinook, coho and sockeye at a high end fish monger? No way.    Best fishing grounds are Southeast and Prince William Sound, where it is caught by seiners and gill netters of Seattle’s Trident Seafood, among others.
Earlier this summer  Yukon River  chum won an award which suddenly pushed the variety to the foodie front pages of the lower 48 and to the front pages of the Alaska papers.   On August 13, 2010, the Seattle P-I posted  “Yukon River chum: Fairy-tale ending for salmon’s poor stepsister.” After swimming 2,200 miles upstream, the chum are oilier and contain more Omega-3s than kings and coho from elsewhere.    Here’s some market data for this season’s range of salmon prices in Seattle:
For starters, the fish are available, enjoying a relatively healthy run at a time when many other fisheries are crashing. The famed Yukon king salmon, which won a cover spread in Saveur this year and was dubbed one of the year’s “best new ingredients” by Food & Wine magazine, was practically nonexistent this summer. The Copper River run was poor, and prices for kings began at more than $40 a pound, placing it firmly in luxury territory. Consumers want more options when it comes to buying fish: They’re regularly bombarded with advice to eat more of it for better health – yet they’re also constantly warned about pesticides, depleted supplies, contaminants, environmental crises and other red flags.

Affordability is another big selling point: It’s a serious investment to fly fish in from remote Emmonak, but the chum is still cheap compared with its more respected Alaskan cousins – most recently $5.99 per pound for whole fish or $8.99 for fillets at Wild Salmon (compared with $2.99 for non-Yukon chum.)
Social factors are also influencing consumer choice.  The 320 Yup’ik fishermen of Emmonak have had a rough year with the shrinking  of the chinook, or king, harvests.
Says one high end fish monger, “You’re supporting an economy, you’re supporting a people that have got a history and a culture that also goes with the fish. … Everybody wins.”
Fishy Links
Over past three years since this post was first written, I’ve become more aware of the complexity of Fish Politics, particularly the vulnerability of fish stocks and of the lives of the those who catch them for us.   I continue to add to the list below.

“Drug waste harms fish: Discharges from pharmaceutical factories contaminate rivers on three continents. Nature. 15 Aug 2011.  Here’s a quote: United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom and France do not have regulations limiting the concentrations of pharmaceuticals released into the aquatic environment in either municipal wastewater or in effluent from manufacturing facilities. “People think drug release is regulated, but its not,” says Joakim Larsson, a pharmacologist at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, and an author of one of the Indian studies.”..

“Alaska Fishermen Circle their Boats to Fight Mine.” By Kim Murphy, Los Angeles Times, Aug 4, 2010.

The Pebble Blog is a developing online discussion moderated by the Anchorage Daily News.

The Monterey Aquarium has just updated their Seafood Watch pocket guides for consumers.  There are guides for every region of the US and for sushi eaters.

Sea Grant Alaska’s bookstore has great publications on the various fisheries, seafood handling, marine research, identification guides, aquaculture, safety, coastal development, marine recreation and conservation, and response to oil spills.  A favorite is Terry Johnson’s OceanTreasure:  Commercial Fishing in Alaska.

New England cod and haddock fisheries are 37 times more dangerous than being a cop!  Fishing in Alaska, however, has become safer (possibly prompted by two disastrous same-day capsizings of new mega crabbers and the deaths of 14 young people from Ancortes, Washington, poignantly reported by Joe Upton in Bering Sea Blues.)  “Trying To Tame The (Real) Deadliest Fishing Jobs” is an August 22, 2012 report from the Center for Public Integrity, WBUR in Boston and NPR News.   See also CPI’s Hard Labor reporting. on workplace safety.



In the News

Alaskans seem to like their newspapers. Dailies from Juneau and Anchorage are found all over, even where they arrive days late.  The resilient Skagway News only appears twice a week but it’s been around for more than a century and is a treasure trove of information on a tiny but civically engaged community.
Meetings are news.  Every gathering in Alaska is somewhere in print and often a news story with pictures follows the event.
The police blotters are comprehensive. While not always compelling reading, the police blotter says something about small caring communities.    The Juneau Empire of May 21, for example, reports that “At 8:07 am Thursday, a 75-year-old woman reported her binoculars missing in the Juneau Area [and] at 8:06 pm on Wednesday, a 48-year-old woman reported and unlocked Ford Explorer was rifled through in the 8100 block at Threadneedle Street but nothing was taken.”
Could it be that online news just hasn’t been able to give the  papers a run for their money?  There’s free wifi in all Alaskan libraries and a few other places but it’s slow and those who have it pay by the byte and it gets expensive.   iPhones and handhelds are everywhere in Alaska but they just can’t cover what print does.
Walter Hinkles has died. He served Alaska as Governor first in 197- and then in 199- .  As Nixon’s Secretary of the Interior in the interim he promoted drilling and extraction everywhere.  The he resigned in disgust over the Vietnam War and became the darling of the peaceniks.
in Sarah Palin’s New Low in the Huffington Post, Alaskan journalist Shannyn Moore compares the two former governors in the wake of Palin’s enthusiastic embrace of Arizona’s new immigration law.  “Palin became the spokesperson for the divisive voices in American politics. She dismissed the greatness of our immigrant heritage, indeed of today’s Alaska, where in Anchorage alone nearly 100 languages are spoken in the homes of the children in our public schools.”