Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Fish-O-Gram #26- Fish-O-Gram! Summer of Fun, Mutant Hunting in the San Juans! Fall Fisheries Underway!

Breaking News!! Urchin Season Opens Today!!!! Your Long, Hot, Uni-Less Nighmare is over!! Fall Crab Season Opens! Live Crab Pricing hits 2017 Low!!! $6.50# for Ocean Run $7.25 for 2# Graded!!

https://www8.nos.noaa.gov/onms/Park/images/Creature_Images/1487.jpgInline image 1The Bounty of Fall....
Dear Un--Penned Customers,
Inline image 1Cooke Family Portrait

The last golden weeks of summer were occupied for us in chasing escaped Atlantic salmon from the Cooke Aquaculture pen collapse in Deepwater Bay off Cypress Island on August 19th.  From start to finish, the great Cypress Fish Spill has been spectacular theatre.  This has been our very own San Juans Truth-Is-Stranger-Than-Fiction .  We have lacked for nothing, the gigantic, clueless, arrogant Canadian Cooke Company being shredded in the media commons, deeper investigation revealing crooked, ambulance-chasing environmental groups, the quiet backdrop maneuvering of NOAA Fisheries in conjunction with a notable peninsular tribe, hapless Washington State Bureaucrats, showboating politicians, the impacts of astral-projection on salmon, and most and best of all, the heroes of this saga, the ever-resourceful and hardworking Fisher men and women, both State and Tribal, who dealt with the escapees on the grounds.  Played out on the airways, in print, and spread out  hundreds of square miles of water.  It was, for a time, the Greatest Show on Earth.

Your Fish-O-Gram correspondent was lucky enough to be in the thick of it--helming the F/V Solar Ice, a 40' fish tender with the mission of hauling as many Atlantics as possible to Bellingham Cold Storage to be delivered into the possession of the Lummi Nation and frozen as  lawsuit fodder. 

Inline image 3They call it seafood, F.O.G. calls it evidence. 

Fish Farming in Washington
Fish farming began in Washington State in the early 80's at a variety of sites, powered by a series of generally fly-by-night operations.  All fish farms are situated on deepwater bottomlands leased from the State Department of Natural Resources.   Most farms began by attempting to grow Pacific Salmon.  These early times experiments were generally unsuccessful-Pacific Salmon do not thrive in captivity.  Fish spills were common in those days, both from defective pen assemblies and, in some cases, from insolvent operators releasing fish they could no longer afford to feed.  One such farm was situated in Shoal Bay, our shellfish farm site, years back.  This farm, Aquasea, grew silver salmon and lost or released them, depending on whose story you believe, when their farm was on the financial ropes.  Our lagoon became the site of a legendary outlaw fishery a few years later when the mature silvers came back to Shoal Bay and milled around in hopes of finding a spot to spawn. 

http://salmonbusiness.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/cypress-island-fish-farm.jpgEmpire by the Bay

Fish Farming Grows Up
By the mid-90's the industry had settled down to four stable sites (Bambridge, Hope Island, Port Angeles and Cypress Island) and went over to growing Atlantic salmon.  These were still pioneer days for fish farming and fish spills were common, ongoing and unremarkable.  During this era your Fish-O-Gram correspondent remembers regularly catching Atlantics in the course of wild-salmon gillnet fisheries.  This was a period of record-low prices for wild salmon, and, driven by fishing groups, salmon farms came under great pressure for their environmental impact and price competition.  Among the high-minded, salmon farming came to be analogous with strip mining and slave-trading.  Given this, and the ongoing struggles as the net pen industry settled into itself, no expansion of farms within Washington State was considered during this spell.  

During the late 1990s and into the 2000's Smoki Foods assembled all four farms and radically improved the farms' process, infrastructure and oversight, including developing a 'natural farmed' label that became the industry standard for best aquaculture practices.  This was also a period of radical environmental and efficiency improvements in the fish-pen industry.  Some within the business make the claim that farmed salmon is the most sustainable form of protein production on earth.  Pointing to the spacial efficiency of fish farming--production potential is almost 1 million pounds of fish per acre per year, and the feed conversion ratio--which now stands at 1.2# of feed needed to produce 1 pounds of farmed salmon.

http://ww3.hdnux.com/photos/02/44/03/671950/3/920x920.jpgDoes this look like strip mining?

Whole Foods Sez: farmed salmon has a ".... mild, satisfying flavor and melt-in-your mouth texture...." and is ".... pleasing to kids and adults alike...."
These arguments, and Smoki's own improvements, were so convincing that Whole Foods featured Washington raised salmon, under the American Gold Seafoods label in Whole Foods markets far and wide.  Whole Foods went so far as to publish a Q&A sheet trumpeting Smoki's practices, including the above quote.  Smoki also brokered truces with the local public-interest community by making large, targeted 'donations' to prominent groups and causes.  Interestingly, the last round of 'agreements' negotiated by Smoki expired in 2016.  Icicle seafoods and Cooke, now owner of the farms, declined to re-up the 'donations'.  Smoki sold the Washington farming operations to Icicle in 2007.   

Hot Potato
Cooke Aquaculture purchased all four Washington State fish farms in 2016 with their purchase of Icicle Seafoods.  At that time Icicle had been in a holding pattern for some years--During this interregnum icicle allowed maintenance to slide from the Smoki levels of excellence.  Cooke is a gigantic company--with 2016 turn-over of of 1.8 billion dollars.  Their pattern is to purchase distressed seafood assets--which Icicle certainly was, restructure and recapitalize them, then expand the footprint and production of their newly shiny assets.  Cooke is used to operating in relatively remote, relatively poor regions such as Atlantic Canada and Chile.  Cooke is used to being hailed as an economic savior and hero.  In early 2017 Cooke filed a series of permit requests with various state agencies as part of their plan to upgrade the existing farms.  In these permit filings Cooke documented the poor state of repair and poor siting of some of the facilities, including the Cypress pen that ultimately collapsed.  Despite this knowledge, the Cooke Company continued to operate the pens and the various state agencies who reviewed these permit documents, raised no alarms. 

Federal Follies
Meanwhile, since the mid-2000s, NOAA Fisheries has been quietly trying to build a coalition to expand finfish aquaculture.  From NOAA's perspective, finfish farming is a booming global business and the US is falling badly behind our trading partners in developing this sector.  In so doing we are, by their telling, missing out on jobs, revenue and faring very poorly in the balance of trade.  In general terms, the US exports our premium product, namely wild salmon, and imports middling product, namely farmed fish.  As of now the US imports 70% of our seafood consumption.  NOAA has been pushing for expanded aquaculture on all coasts, in all states.  In Washington State, in consideration of the political realities here, NOAA has focused efforts on advocating the Department of Ecology to take a more tolerant stance towards finfish aquaculture, which Ecology has done, and on bringing a treaty tribe on board to spearhead expanded net pen farming in Washington.  One of the Olympic Peninsula tribes took the bait and has collaborated with NOAA to build NOAA's Manchester, Kitsap County facility into a powerhouse of finfish aquaculture research and development, including a net pen complex for production experiments.  The plan developed was to site a string of offshore net pens in the Strait of Juan De Fuca.  These pens were to be owned by the tribe, given regulatory and technical muscle by NOAA and operated by Cooke.  Permits for the first of these were to have begun wending their way through the permitting process earlier this month.  It is crucial to point out that, with the exception of this one tribe, the entire Washington State treaty community is vehemently opposed to an expansion of net pen farming.  It is also important to underline the ongoing conflict between the mighty Lummi Nation--by far and away the largest and most powerful fishing tribe--and the Peninsular Tribes over fishing areas, or U&A (Usual and Accustomed) areas.  Some observers have suggested that the (successful) effort to push Lummi out of the Southern Straits districts was a prelude to bringing in net pens--as these waters are no longer part of the Lummi U&A areas the tribe has much reduced standing to fight net pen expansion.

On August 19th the first escaped Atlantic salmon showed up in Lummi nets on the Purse Seiner F/V Salish Sea, then working Pt Williams, 5 or 6 miles away from the Cypress site.  Skipper Luke Kinley texted pictures of the unfamiliar fish to his mother, Ellie Kinley, who identified them as escapees, and raised a general alarm.  Cooke initially denied an escape had occurred, then claimed it was very small, then infamously blamed the eclipse for damaging the structure.  Aerial photos documented a twisted, wrecked mess of a fish farm.  What had in fact happened, based on reports from a Confidential Informant within the Cooke organization, is that the previous week the pen had dragged anchor.  This was likely caused by the huge weight of fish within it, over three million pounds, the heavy amount of marine growth fouling the nets, and the unfortunate placement of the pen side-saddle to prevailing currents.   Re-adjustments to the anchoring system cinched the anchor lines down too far.  The next, higher tide cycle pitted a reinforced anchor system against the inexorable upward force of a million pounds of buoyancy.  Against this, the aged and tired pen frame simply crumpled and ruptured the nets.  The structural damage was so severe that Cooke employees were unable to even access the platforms.  Salmon poured out into Deepwater Bay by the tens of thousands.  

Inline image 5And so Castles made of sand.....

Too Many Cookes in the Kitchen
For ten days Cooke dissembled and WDFW dithered.  The estimated fish spill rose from a handful, to a few thousand, to a final number in the range of 160,000 fish.  Escaped Atlantics showed up, in huge numbers  throughout the entire Salish Sea.  Lummi and State fishers continued to catch the fish in the ongoing Samish/Bellingham Bay fishery, but no targeted mop-up was authorized.  Cooke themselves began beach seining the fish in Deepwater Bay until WDFW stopped them on the grounds that they were not properly permitted to recapture their own fish.  Operators of net pens must have plans on file for dealing with a spill--much like an oil spill,the idea is that any escaped fish are to be immediately removed from open water in any way necessary or possible.  Under Washington State law escaped farmed salmon are classified as pollution.  Despite this, WDFW did nothing for a full week and a half, other than encourage sports fishermen to go and catch the Atlantics.  The Cooke Company maintained a blithe stance, downplaying the magnitude of the spill and asserting that fisher-folk should just relax and enjoy the opportunity to catch and eat the Atlantics as the fish bumbled into other fisheries.

On Friday, the 25th of August the Lummi tribe unilaterally opened Deepwater bay to their fleet as a clean-up measure.  Lummi fisheries enforcement was ordered to stand by and protect their fleet from potential interference by WDFW enforcement.  Faced with a fishery fait accompli, WDFW stood down.  Over the next two weeks net fishing for the mutants would open, close, open again and then close in a demented bureaucratic kabuki dance as the fish spread ever-farther from Deepwater Bay.  State-licensed commercial smelt fishers in the San Juans began chasing the fish as well.  All  fishers took on the task as a public service and cleanup effort.  There was no guarantee of payment, even now many fishers have not been paid a dime. 

Inline image 7A 32000# deckload

Fish 'till your hands bleed
Catches were huge.  Over the course of the fishery Lummi Nation fishers caught and packed away upwards of 45,000 fish.  Fishers fished until their hands were bloody, their boats on the verge of sinking and their nets in shreds.  Other tribes and state commercial fishermen caught maybe another 5-6000 fish.  Sports fishers hooked 2000-some on top of that, some as far afield as Hood Canal and Northern Vancouver Island.  Many more Atlantics would have been caught had the area been opened sooner to net fishers, and had the openings been maintained throughout.   

Inline image 8We've got this.  What were the bureaucrats waiting for?

Astral Projections Work
On board the F/V Solar Ice we followed the fisherfolk, day and night, up muddy embayments, through the islands and anywhere fish were sited or reported.  At one point we asked San Juan Islands residents to call in with fish sightings.  The San Juan Astral-projections group called to offer to send underwater impulses to drive the fish into nets.   Over the course of the exercise,we hauled close to 130,000 pounds of the rogue fish.  As ever, the State-Licensed and Tribal fisherfolk distinguished themselves with their heroic labors, determination to turn a disaster into something positive, and by their fast-moving creativity as they adapted to fishing an alien species.   

Inline image 4Another 500#, off the water

A Fish The Seals Would Not Eat
The fish holed up in three-sided, narrow bays and milled around waiting for someone to feed them.  They jumped and swam in circles.  The hook-and-line fishers who did best scattered catfood or gravel on the water to excite the fish.  Commercial fishers set gillnets in elaborate spider webs or used beach seines to muscle the fish in.  The Atlantics are surprisingly lovely from a distance, uniform and shiny.  Any fisher-person loves a mass of fresh fish, and the recovery fishery was thrilling from that point of view.  But once on board the difference became apparent.  Up close their fins showed themselves ragged and frayed from constant rubbing against one another.  Also, the Atlantics stink, they reek--where wild salmon have their various smells, species by species and all lovely,  Atlantics stink like wet dog food.  They are heavier for their size than wild salmon, and where wild salmon are taut and rippled with muscle, Atlantics are pudgy and soft.  Another tell is that the marine mammals, typically merciless predators on salmon hanging in gillnets, refused to touch the Atlantics.  For all the Atlantics we handled we saw two small seal bites.  A typical haul of a few hundred wild salmon will see a couple of dozen of them seal marked.  Sea lice were completely absent, causing us to wonder if the fish had been chemically treated prior to the spill.  

Catching and hauling the Atlantics was a surreal experience.  Getting them off the water felt good, and catching a lot of anything is fun, but to load a boat with salmon that stink, that seals, coyotes of the sea, refuse to touch, that one had no desire to eat, or to encourage others to eat, felt very, very strange.  Coupled with the smoky haze then blurring the sun and running for days and nights with no sleep, the whole experience verged on the hallucinatory and apocalyptic.  Following a stiff southerly blow, the fish dispersed from Deepwater Bay and nearby haunts.  A week or so of hunting dwindling groups of escapees throughout the San Juans followed, punctuated by maddening WDFW closures, 'till catches dwindled down to nothing.  The last few schools captured were lethargic and beginning to waste away.  None of the Atlantics we saw had been feeding successfully.  Since then very few escapees have been seen since in other ongoing fisheries.  Overall less than half the vagrant fish were recaptured.  Our best guess is that the remainder simply died of starvation, fear and broken hearts, pining for their pens and regular feeding schedules.  Scorned by the seals, disavowed by Cooke, the remaining fish have slipped to the seafloor to be somehow, someday, worked back into the food chain.  

Inline image 2This Machine Kills Mutants

Show Me The Money
Cooke has yet to pay a dime to the Lummi Nation or to the State fisher-folk who caught these fish.  Unfortunately, the State fishers have no group or politician advocating their case.  The Lummi tribe borrowed money to advance an initial payment to their fishers, State fishers, and those who tendered and processed the state fish, have received nothing and WDFW has done nothing to prod Cooke to make things right.  The most activity  we have seen out of  WDFW through all of this was when enforcement got involved in investigating a raid on one of the two remaining pens at Cypress.  Apparently a fisherman got greedy and cut his way into an intact pen to extract more fish--enforcement found slashed webbing and a slime and blood trail across the farm decking.  As far as we know no-one was charged.  

The Cooke Company seemed completely blindsided by the hubbub.  Their early press releases and responses were unimaginably flat footed.  At one point a company spokesperson dismissed the spill as 'an economic loss to us' rather than a broader resource, tribal or fishery issue.  Another high point came when Chris Phillips, Editor of National Fisherman, was told by a Cooke rep that State commercial fishermen should be content with the "chance to take home such a superior fish to eat", never mind that most fishermen would rather eat a grilled rat than a farmed salmon.  Cooke may be a big dog when it comes to the Business of farmed fish, but in Washington State that just makes them a bigger target.  Their approach stands in direct contrast to Smoki--which went to extreme lengths to fade into the woodwork.....  
Inline image 9By Day/By Night/We Will Hunt the Escapees

Fish Spill Fallout
In all fairness, Washington State fisheries and tribal politics are often hard for locals to track, let alone outsiders. The ripples of the fish spill will be felt for years to come.  Any expansion plans for finfish aquaculture in Washington State is off the table.  The tribes, Lummi most particularly, are now fully dedicated to getting all fish pens out of Washington State waters.  Washington State agencies will certainly be sued for failing to respond rapidly to the spill and for neglecting their duties by allowing documented, structurally deficient pens to hold fish.  Cooke's DNR lease requires the operator to maintain net pen gear in good working order.  One angle now being pursued is to force DNR declare Cooke in technical default, and revoke their bottomlands lease.  

Cooke Be Gone
Cooke will most likely take a few more rounds of beating, gather up their marbles and move on to more hospitable shores.  There is no future in Washington State for the vision that they, NOAA and the outlier Olympic Peninsula tribe had mapped out.  WDFW, DNR and Washington State Department of Ecology also have some hard reckoning to do.  Their collective failure to act on known structural issues is blatant negligence and Ecology's willingness to follow NOAA's lead in pushing net pens is counter to the best interests of our state.  WDFW's failure to enact their own protocol for containing a fish spill, namely their reluctance to enable the state and tribal fishing fleets to chase these fish, is straight-up criminal.  So too is WDFW's complete disinterest in prodding Cooke to pay State licensed fishers for their work.  At one point the head of the State task force went on record as claiming that the Cooke Company had no obligation to pay to have fish pulled out of the water, then quickly backtracked when it was pointed out that paying for recovery efforts was a condition of Cooke's permit.

The Lummi Nation stands as the break-away hero of this debacle, as does the Washington State commercial fishing fleet, both state and tribal.  It was commercial fishers who first noticed the escaped fish, it was the Lummi Nation that bucked WDFW to commence the cleanup effort, commercial fishers who took it on themselves to remove the escaped fish and commercial fishers who are now holding Cooke and State agencies' feet to the fire.  The fish spill represents the most robust collaboration between State and Tribal fishers F.O.G. has ever seen.  May there be more to come.  May we all be grateful that a professional, agile, mosquito fleet of Commercial Fishermen was ready and willing to take on this task.

Many wild claims about the potential long-term damage from the fish spill have been tossed around by politicians and various public interest agitators.  Fears have been raised that the escapees would spread disease to wild fish, cross-breed with Pacific Salmon, or that Atlantics would out-compete native fish for food and resources.  From our  perspective, F.O.G. finds these claims to be bunk.  Cooke's fish are pathetic, so highly bred as to be completely lacking in any survival instinct, guile or capability.  Releasing a pen's worth of Atlantics into the Salish Sea is akin to releasing a hundred thousand Cornish Cross Broiler chickens from confinement farms into the African savanna.  Competition with the locals is not going to be an issue.  Furthermore in years past WDFW tried over and again to introduce Atlantics to Washington State and failed, with wild-origin Atlantic genetics--presumably much fitter than the pen fish.  All those fish that escaped from pens during the 1990s, they are gone without a trace.  No successful spawning of Atlantics has been documented in Washington State.  As far as disease, generations of these fish have been held in porous net pens.  If they harbor disease, any contagions have been open to wild salmon and the general marine environment all along.  If disease is an issue--and it probably is--that cat has been out of the bag for a long time and the fish spill couldn't do much to increase the risk. Rather, the environmental and wild-fish risks from fish farming are chronic rather than acute--any one event probably doesn't do much to move the dial. 

In our opinion, those making such claims are either misinformed or are being deliberately alarmist.  This does not mean fish farming is appropriate for Washington State.   Ultimately, there is no good reason to have these creatures in our waters

https://famlife.archdpdx.org/pictures/2016/6/static1.squarespace.com.pngFarmed Fish Harm Too

Time To Take A Stand
F.O.G. is firmly in the anti-net pen camp.  The reason is simple, floppy, stinky, weak, confused, mutant off-shoots have no place, now or ever, in our lively waters, on our plates, or on the roster of JFF sales offerings.  Seeing pen fish milling around our bays, finning over our growing oysters and piling up in our boats was a major reality check.  Our conclusion is thus: Farmed salmon are to wild fish as pornography is to sex--if there is a place for farmed salmon it is not around here and not anything we care to be involved with. 
Real Fish!!!!!
Inline image 6F/V Salish Sea, the boat that caught the first Atlantic, making a haul of wild Fraser River bound salmon.

As a delightful bookend to the Mutant Parade, we spent a magical day at Pt Roberts buying king and pink salmon headed to the Fraser River.  We are delighted to report that our Hometown Hero Fisher-Folk are just as skilled at catching wild fish as catching mutants and far happier to do so.  The seals feasted, the boat smelled sweet, we cooked and ate fish till it ran out our ears--it was a wonderful trip. 

Fall Fisheries Underway!!!!Urchins Return October 2!!! Pink Scallops are coming....Any week now!!
Nooksack Coho and local crab are now fully available.  The crab resource looks to be having a down year, after a string of banner seasons, and both State and Tribal fishing sectors are being much more strategic about the layout of the fishery. Accordingly, we should all expect to see October/November crab pricing higher than usual--but still substantially lower than summer pricing.  Nooksack Coho are here and are one of our favorite fish of the year.  Their unique quality is due to their diet, consisting largely of dungeness crab larvae.  So dining gives the Nooksack coho a color, flavor and depth all their own.  For more information on the Nooksack Coho please refer to last years' Fish-O-Gram on the Nooksack fish.http://jffarms.blogspot.com/20 16/09/fish-o-gram-returns-nook sack-coho.html.  To order this superlative fish please call or email.  Urchins are on as of today!! We will be offering whole live red and green urchin and also jugged, uncured red urchin uni in 4# tubs.  As far as scallops go, we are waiting for the last traces of red tide to die down.  If all goes well we should be sending the first scallops to market on the 4'th of October.  A full fall of delights ahead!!!
The Science is Clear.  Nooksack Coho are best.

Until Next time, we are your Mutant-Hauling, Evidence-Collecting, Pen-Shredding, Pornography-Eschewing, Coho-Probing, Scallop-Testing, Uni-Jugging JFF Crew.  

Please Join us on Lopez Saturday the 6th of October for a Pig Roast.  Camping Available! Live Music! Free Beer! Target Shooting!!

Inline image 1

N&S Jones & Famil