16 May 2007 - 11:44
  • News Code: 104798

Already the most selective and sustainable commercial salmon fishery in Puget Sound, reefnet fishing just boosted its eco-friendly status with the addition of solar-power panels to two of its boats.

Although this commercial fishery takes place off Lummi Island north of Bellingham and near the mouth of the Fraser River, there are some South Sound connections to the world’s first solar-powered wild-salmon fishery.

Ian Kirouac, 33, a 2005 graduate of The Evergreen State College, has split his time between Olympia and Lummi Island since joining the commercial fishing co-op four years ago. Recently, he has been busy spreading the word about this little-known, yet ancient, fishery and the co-op’s venture into solar power.

When he isn’t fishing, which is most of the summer, he also is active finding new markets for the Fraser River-bound sockeye, pink and chum salmon that the co-op members catch. Among the restaurants and retail outlets buying salmon from the co-op and selling it to customers in South Sound are Cielo Blu, The Mark, Anthony’s HomePort and Top Foods, Theolympian.com said.

“We have more demand than we have fish,“ Kirouac said.

Reefnet fishing might be the oldest form of fishing in the world. It originally was practiced by American Indians of the Puget Sound region using cedar bark rope and marsh grass to simulate underwater reefs. The fish swam over the artificial reefs and into a net where they were caught live and landed into cedar canoes.

Today, the boats are bigger, and winches are used to pull the net. But the time-honored fishery, which is down to just 11 sets of gear, including seven owned by the co-op, remains much the same.

The number of Reefnet commercial fishing licenses peaked around 75 in the 1970s and stayed in the 50s until the end of the 1990s, noted Jeromy Jording, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Puget Sound commercial fisheries manager.

The main reason for the decline was a major reduction in the number of Fraser River sockeye allowed for harvest by US fishers under the US-Canada Pacific Salmon Treaty.

Last year, the Reefnetters caught about 48,000 sockeye, or about 5 percent of the catch by US nontreaty tribe commercial fishers, Jording said.

“This is not a profitable fishery,“ Kirouac said. “We’re the tiny guys.“

A reefnet gear consists of two stationary fishing boats, or platforms with a net, preceded by lines and ribbons designed to look like a reef, stretched between them at flood tide when the salmon are likely to head into the mouth of the Fraser River. Crew members stand in 15-foot towers on the boats, keeping an eye on the water for signs of fish.

“Sometimes we call it grief netting,“ Kirouac said. “There’s a lot of waiting.“

When fish are spotted heading into the net, the net is pulled and the fish are gently rolled into a live holding pen aboard one of the boats. They’re allowed to swim around to relax a bit while crew members sort out any other salmon species, including endangered chinook salmon, and return them to the water unharmed.

“We have less than a 0.25 percent mortality with our incidental take,“ he said. “No other fishery can match that.“

You might ask: Where does the solar power fit into the equation?

Working with Bellingham-based Alpha Energy Inc., the co-op members installed 12 solar panels on two of their fishing boats/platforms this spring to operate the net-pulling winches and other equipment onboard.

The solar panels replace thousands of pounds of electric batteries that the crew otherwise would have to haul to shore and recharge every few days.

 

PIN/ LummiislandWild.com

News Code 104798

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