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Blog Archive for June 2011

Jun 24

Friday Fish Review, No. 17

An unscientific, and often whimsical, collection of our favorite fishy finds of the week

Lb Fresh Costa Rica Pan

Laughing Bird fresh shrimp returned this week, and all was right with the world.


Jun 23

A Period of Consequences

Thoughts from the Chief Fishmonger, Dale Sims

Keep Calm & Carry On

The Protestant Reformation is considered to have begun when Martin Luther, the priest/monk publicly challenged the authority of the Roman Catholic Church. A key part of his questioning and ultimate rejection of Catholicism was based on his rejection of what theologians call sacerdotalism, the religious belief that priests must be the intermediaries between God and man. Martin Luther argued that men could read the Bible for themselves rather than relying upon the priesthood as the sole arbiters and gatekeepers for divine knowledge. He was, of course excommunicated for this. What many people do not know is that for the remainder of his life he was often troubled by self doubt. If, after all, he was wrong, he and anyone else who agreed with him headed down the highway to Hell.

Dan Quayle was no John Kennedy, and I'm no Martin Luther. But he and I do have one thing in common— pangs of self-doubt. When the tone of my columns take on an apocalyptic tone — we're overfishing our oceans! we're destroying the rainforests! the icebergs are melting! — I wonder if I'm like Chicken Little who thinks the world is coming to an end because an acorn hit him on the head. I have this image in my head of me as a white bearded old man in a black robe standing on a street corner holding up a sign proclaiming: "the world is coming to an end!" Fortunately, at least for my own sanity, these moments of self-doubt are reasonably brief. Then I'm back on my soapbox pushing for change.

Folks, we are in the midst of the Anthropocene Age (human + new), and it is marked by The Great Acceleration. It really started after WWII when we started seeing a rapid increase in the human population characterized by rising consumerism, abundant cheap energy and increased global economic activity. It is also marked by things like the loss of habitat and ecosystem services, overfishing, loss of biodiversity and limits on freshwater. Consider the water issues in California. Do we divert water from Northern California so we can farm in the desert? The capital of Yemen regularly receives deliveries of fresh water by tanker truck. What happens when a big city starts to run out water? Something has to change. Australian environmentalist Paul Gilding says we must consume less. He puts it this way: "How many people lie on their death bed and say, 'I wish I had worked harder or built more shareholder value,' and how many say, 'I wish I had gone to more ballgames, read more books to my kids, taken more walks?' To do that, you need a growth model based on giving people more time to enjoy life, but with less stuff."

"Okay Dale," you say to me, "you've mentioned overfishing twice already here, but what point are you trying to make?" I confess, I don't have a blueprint. But I know we need to change. An article on seafood.com this week began like this: "Mass extinctions of species in the world's oceans are inevitable if current trends of overfishing, habitat loss, global warming and pollution continue, a panel of renowned marine scientists warned Tuesday." Although the U.S. has done a good job in improving our fisheries management practices to curb overfishing, the problems we face are global.

"Owing to past neglect, in the face of the plainest warnings, we have entered upon a period of danger. The era of procrastination, of half measures, of soothing and baffling expedience of delays, is coming to its close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences . . . We cannot avoid this period, we are in it now." --Winston Churchill, November 12, 1936


Jun 20

First Impressions

I am new to this world of fish. I have always been curious, but recently it has felt like an obligation. A good obligation. One that allows me to be impressed by this area that is rich with marine and food culture. The scary part is that I feel like I’m sitting on the edge about to dip my foot in to a dark pool. There is so much to explore and so many realities to uncover. My first impression is that it will be an exhilarating plunge.

I want to believe that fishing is poetic. I recollect as reality the glinting casts of “A River Runs Through It”. I hear the sacrificial words of Gus Orviston battling the Sacramento River (The River Why). I wonder the stories a boat keeps as it hibernates in its harbour. I believe the highest form of art to be the worn planks of a pier. I sense a beauty in a world that I will never understand.

The truth is that this fish world is complicated. Waking up with the sleepy rituals of Half Moon Bay or combing the alley’s of Pier 45 only make it more so. What does it mean to be a fisherman? Where are all the fish? What are we eating? These questions toss about in my mind as I attempt to catalogue what I can.

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Fishermen are different. They operate these days with regulations and load limits. They fish three days every two months and know the dates of seasons as they should anniversaries and birthdays. They have beautiful, hard working hands and sleepy eyes. They are, like farmers, eternally cognizant of their lack of control.

Fish are unknowable. You don’t buy a fish as a pet for a lasting friendship. You won’t ever see a horizon from the same point of view. You don’t even know sometimes what’s on the end of the line — it could be a shoe, or a beer can, or driftwood that makes it taught. They live in a world with rhythms we will never know.

Food is flawed. We knowingly and unknowingly damage the systems that sustain us. We piss upstream and expect clear water on our beaches.

There are fish “safety” charts that resemble the homeland security color scale in an airport. Worsening degrees of contamination colored in “danger” red. What fish we are eating is most often not arriving on a boat. When it does, does it feel like harvest or exploitation? Fish, just like tomatoes, taste better when their lives are explained, their story complete. (i.e. I grew these in a pot on the porch with seeds from my crazy aunt Linda.) Everything starts somewhere.

Towards this endless subject I continue to catalogue away by taking pictures.
Bait cod with squid.
Local salmon season opens back up June 25th.
Fishermen are worth knowing.
Sardines are delicious.
It is hard to know what is right.
The sea is big.


Jun 17

Friday Fish Review, No. 16

An unscientific, and often whimsical, collection of our favorite fishy finds of the week

Hook Bottle Opener

Great Father's Day gift: a hook bottle opener!


Jun 17

Salmon Noir

Thoughts from Chief Fishmonger, Dale Sims

King Salmon Chinatown

The 1974 Roman Polanski movie Chinatown with Faye Dunaway and Jack Nicholson is very loosely based on the manipulations that occurred in the 1910s and 1920s in disputes over land and water rights in southern California when William Mulholland acted on behalf of the Los Angeles interests to secure water rights in the Owens Valley.

California has been engaged in another water war for many years. It's the ongoing struggle to balance the needs of public lands, recreational interests, water resources, helping to restore salmon and other fisheries and water flow into the largely depleted San Joaquin River versus agricultural interests in the San Joaquin Valley and Kern County. It took two decades to hammer out a settlement that the various stakeholders could live with. Three CA-Republicans to Congress, Devin Nunnes of Visalia, Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield and Jeff Denham of Atwar, are now seeking to undermine this. Speaking out against them, Bruce Babbitt, former Secretary of the Interior and current Chairman of the Board of the World Wildlife Fund says their actions are a "war on land, water and natural resources." They have introduced House Resolution 1837 (HR 1837) that would radically alter water law and policy in California. The commercial fishing industry calls HR-1837 the "Salmon Extinction Bill of 2011." HR-1837 is not about equability for all stakeholders. It is a weak attempt to secure more water rights for the western part of the San Joaquin Valley.

Since October of last year, the giant pumps that divert and propel water from the Sacramento delta to different farming districts have sucked up close to 50,000 of our iconic California king salmon. It is suspected but not confirmed that most of these fish are fall run Chinooks. All the other salmon runs swimming thru the golden gate have diminished to the point that they are already protected by the Endandgered Species Act. If we let this happen to our fall run Chinooks, California can say goodbye to any true wild salmon fishery. An early analysis of the 2010 fall salmon run found that only 10% of the returning salmon were actually wild. Nine out of ten fish had tags showing they had been raised in a hatchery and released as part of an effort to help the wild population recover. In California, hatchery fish are not supplementing naturally produced fish, they have replaced them.

I support the much needed California hatchery system. Fishing communities and businesses, particularly along the Central and Northern California coasts, from mom and pop tackle shops, recreational fishing interests, and commercial fisherman all depend on our salmon fishery for their livelihoods. On the one hand, our reliance today on hatchery fish illustrates why I refuse to enter the debate of wild versus farmed. It's the wrong conversation. A more appropriate conversation is artisan practices versus industrial practices. This takes me back to the water issues and the San Joaquin Valley.

Earlier this year one group of farmers sued to stop the first full commercial salmon season in four years. Fortunately, that ridiculous lawsuit went nowhere. The San Luis and Delta-Mendota Water Authority wants more water. They view declarations about droughts and water shortages as being strictly man-made, brought on by increasingly strict environmental regulations, and correctible by simply diverting more water to them.

Towns like Mendota popped up because of the tenacity and ambition that built the American West. One hundred years ago, most of the San Joaquin Valley was an undeveloped dust bowl. What small farming communities existed were built around natural water sources. Today the San Joaquin Valley produces more food than anywhere else in the country. It is home to a $20 billion dollar crop industry and supplies our nation with 25% of its food. Here's the crux: Not all water consumers are treated equally. Access to water has essentially been "first come, first serve." Those who signed up for water contracts first gave the best guarantees. Mendota is part of the last area in the valley to be developed. Now there's a reason for that. By nature it is a desert. I am always puzzled when someone moves to the desert with the expectation of living in a rainforest. Granted, that's a bit of hyperbole. But, like everything else on the planet, there is a finite amount of water. It makes no sense to grow beyond our resources. If we continue to use up the earth's resources faster than they can be sustainably replenished we are, in essence, eating the future. As for the San Joaquin Valley and its agricultural bounty, California historian Kevin Starr describes it as "the most productive unnatural environment on earth."


Jun 10

Friday Fish Review, No. 15

An unscientific, and often whimsical, collection of our favorite fishy finds of the week

Mapping Fish 1900 Vs 2000


Jun 03

Friday Fish Review, No. 14

An unscientific, and often whimsical, collection of our favorite fishy finds of the week

You Are What You Eat


Jun 03

The Price of Freedom

Thoughts from Chief Fishmonger, Dale Sims

Return Of 100 Pound Salmon

California Fish & Game biologist Doug Killam holds an 88-pound Pacific chinook salmon. It's hoped the removal of the Elwha Dam in Washington state could result in even bigger fish. (California Department of Fish and Game photo)

How in the world is it possible to illegally build two concrete dams, one 105 feet high, the other 210 feet high, and have them remain in operation for nearly a century (99 and 84 years respectively)? To answer this question, I consulted that oracle of wisdom: my genetically modified barn animal, the elephino.

On Wednesday of this week (June 1st) the wheels stopped turning at the Elwha Dam powerhouse. "We're going to let this river be wild again," said Amy Kober, a spokesperson for American Rivers, an advocacy group. The generators may be powering down, but the river is powering up. The Elwha River, cascading out of the mountains for 45 miles down the Olympic Peninsula in Washington, once teemed with all five species of Pacific salmon, including the fabled June run of Chinooks known as the June Hogs. These were king salmon weighing in at upwards of 100 pounds each. Two large concrete dams were constructed in the early 1900s. These dams were built without fish ladders, so only five miles of the river was left for returning salmon. It is estimated that prior to 1910, close to 400,000 salmon migrated up the Elwha every year. In 2005 there were only 5,000 salmon. With a 99% decline in the salmon population the June Hogs were little more than piglets.

Both the 105-foot Elwha Dam and the 210-foot Giles Canyon Dam eight miles upstream are being removed. The actual demolition will start this fall. This is the largest dam removal project undertaken in the United States. Forget about the water for a moment. There are more than 24 million cubic yards just of sediment trapped behind the dams in two man-made lakes/reservoirs, Lake Mills and Lake Adwell. That's enough to fill a football stadium two miles high.

So, what about this government sanctioned illegal construction? At the time these dams were built, Washington state law required dams to be built with fish ladders. However, the companies building the dams didn't bother to follow that particular provision in the law. Construction on the Elwha Dam began in 1910. The very next year, the county game warden expressed alarm that no fish were appearing above the dam site and that spawners were congregating below the dam, unable to reach the historical salmon spawning areas. Following the recommendation of Leslie Darwin, the state fish commissioner, Olympic Power and Development Company circumvented the law by building a fish hatchery that was physically connected to the dam. The dam was declared an official state-sanctioned fish obstruction for the purpose of supplying the hatchery with eggs. In an agreement with the state of Washington signed in August 1914, Olympic Power donated the land and $2,500 for the state to build a hatchery.

Washington Governor Ernest Lister liked the idea so much he persuaded the state legislature to endorse building hatcheries instead of providing for fish passages at new dams. The Ehwha hatchery was finished in 1915. It was abandoned in 1922 because of a lack of returning brood stock. But, a precedent had been set. Dams began to multiply and hatcheries became the core for the management of the state fisheries.

The push to remove these dams officially began May 15, 1986, when the Seattle Audubon Society, Friends of the Earth, Sierra Club, and Olympic Park Associates formally requested removal of these dams at a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) meeting. It has taken 25 years to wind its way through the halls of government bureaucracy, legislative red tape and pork-barrel politics. But, it has happened. The cost to remove these dams is pegged at around $324MM.

They say freedom doesn't come cheap.


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