Farmed Atlantic Salmon: The Deadliest Catch

If you believe that farmed salmon are part of a solution, to anything, we hope you’ll watch Salmon Confidential. If you believe farmed salmon are a healthy food choice, we hope you’ll watch this video.

The setting is British Columbia, Canada. The protagonists are wild salmon, river keepers, and scientists. The film is a fast-paced hour that will leave anyone who watches it and who cares about the food they eat, about our planet’s wild places, and about government transparency and its proper role in mega-farming of all descriptions with serious questions.

“…and the kid looks at you and says, how could there have been thousands of salmon here, you’re just an old man exaggerating. And then I have to correct him, not thousands, tens of thousands.” Russell Chatham in Rivers of a Lost Coast talking about one small west coast river

A Ghost Town, Grizzlies, and the Best Fish and Chips Anywhere

Patrolling Hyder, Alaska’s Fish Creek like she owns it, 600-pound Monica fattens up on a freshly subdued chum salmon.

With a population of fewer than 100 residents, Hyder, Alaska, bills itself as “The Friendliest Ghost Town in Alaska.” The town is one of those gems that is far enough off the beaten path to still be something of a secret, known mainly to the relatively few people who travel the Cassiar Highway in western British Columbia. Many of these travelers are on their way to or from Alaska, and not even all of these travelers are aware of what Hyder offers.

A prize for any grizzly, this beautifully marked chum salmon makes its way up the air-clear water of Fish Creek. 

In addition to rare opportunities to watch and photograph grizzlies up close from a safe vantage point (an elevated viewing deck runs along a short portion of Fish Creek), Hyder boasts what is surely one of the world’s most unusual destination restaurants. We’ve written about the Seafood Express in a previous post. Established in 1998, the school bus Jim and Diana Simpson converted into a restaurant continues to turn out the very best fish and chips we’ve ever had. Even when the salmon and bears aren’t in, the restaurant alone makes taking the turnoff to Hyder worthwhile. Jim, a fisherman by trade, supplies the fresh salmon, halibut, shrimp and prawns Diana magically transforms into perfectly crispy, golden-brown, airily light creations that seem to disappear in one’s mouth. Complimented by a bottle of Alaskan Amber Ale, lingering over a meal there is the perfect way to relax after a morning of nature watching while Rufous Hummingbirds trill musically from the nearby spruce and fir forest.

A female common merganser (Mergus merganser) leads her brood of chicks (next photo) down Fish Creek’s crystalline currents.

Merganser chicks scurry to keep up with their mother. This type of duck typically nests in tree cavities near water. They feed on small fish, insects and (I’m guessing) salmon eggs when they can find them.

Since 1998, the Seafood Express has been serving up gourmet-quality fish and chips

The viewing platform on Fish Creek provides one of the very few places in North America where people can routinely and safely view wild grizzlies from a fairly close distance. The platform is manned by knowledgable U. S. Forest Service Rangers. The best viewing is from late July through September.

A trip to Alaska through British Columbia by car, camper or motorhome is a trip of a lifetime. If your route takes you along the Cassiar Highway, Hyder should be a “must visit” destination!

For more, click here to see our iReport on CNN.

Totem Poles at Gitanyow

Above: Hole in the Ice totem pole at Gitanyow, British Columbia. The totem poles at this National Historical Site represent one of the largest collections in North America. Although many of the sculptures at Gitanyow are replicas (the originals were moved to museums), Hole in the Ice is an original.

Carved from cedar and imbued with symbolism, history and tradition, totem poles are an art from that fire the imagination. When we read that there was an authentic collection a short detour off the Stewart Cassiar Highway we were taking north through British Columbia, we had to make the trip. There are other places in the Northwest where you can see totem poles, but Gitanyow is compelling for sheer numbers (about 50) as well as for the detailed artistry in many of the poles.

Figures such as this wolf may represent a clan, a specific person, or be part of a story.

Right: This friendly mixed breed  we nicknamed Bear adopted me and stayed by my side throughout our visit. The poles in this photo are smaller than the others pictured in this post.

There is a museum at this site, but it was closed on the day we visited. In fact, we didn’t see a single other person as we walked the grounds, and although explanations of what we were looking at would have been welcome, the solitude to contemplate these carvings through our own lenses was even more welcome.

The totem poles at Gitanyow are in various states of weathering, with some so worn their features are hard to make out.

As we walked the grounds on this grey, misty, sometimes rainy summer day, one word kept passing over our lips. “Cool.” Thinking back on that day and looking at these photos again, the same word comes to mind, pushing others aside. These sculptures are cool. Way cool.

Above: a beaver seems to be gnawing on a headband above this face. 

Bison and Bears (and a C-Dory) on the Al-Can Highway

Ferdinand the Wood Bison kickin’ it in a dust wallow in Northern British Columbia. In addition to breathtaking views of the Canadian Rockies, vast forests, free-flowing rivers and an amazing array of wildflowers, a summer drive through western British Columbia and Yukon Territory on the way to Alaska provides one of the premier animal viewing opportunities in North America. (This is the first of several posts planned about the drive to Alaska and sights both along the way and in Alaska.)

In the fall of 2008 when Barbra and I purchased our C-Dory 22 Angler fishing boat, Gillie, we had no idea that 21 months later we’d be towing it 3,200 miles from Sacramento, California to Valdez, Alaska on a 43-day camping, exploring and fishing odyssey. With the exception of one night in an Anchorage hotel, we camped on Gillie – both at sea and on land – the entire trip. As Barbra and I fell into the daily rhythms of preparing meals and crawling into bed each night, our boat actually seemed to grow larger.

The trip north proved to be an ongoing revelation – one filled with far more grandeur than we’d anticipated.

I’d seen plains bison on trips to Yellowstone National Park, but we had no idea there was another subspecies of American bison, wood bison, roaming free in northern Canada and eastern Alaska. We encountered herds engaged in typical bison behavior including grunting males butting heads, females nursing spindly-legged young, and

individuals dust wallowing.

Our Tacoma had a feature we loved: a sun roof. By shooting photos from the open roof, we could safely get close to roadside animals, neither spooking them nor putting ourselves in danger. It was like having a photography blind.

At the beginning of the journey, we kept a list of the animals we encountered, dutifully tallying deer, elk, bison, stone sheep, moose, caribou, coyotes, hawk owls, and eagles. Eventually the numbers overwhelmed us. But there is one figure we still recall: thirty-two black bears. We also saw grizzlies, near Hyder, not to mention the sea mammals we encountered once we launched our boat in Alaska. And, of course, there were beavers and innumerable smaller animals and birds. But the group of animals we still most frequently talk about were the ones we didn’t see.

One evening, at the kind of typical roadside rest stop that served as our (free) campground most nights, we were walking after dinner and taking in an endless vista of taiga coniferous forest interspersed with aspen fringed lakes and swatches of magenta fireweed. It was around eleven o’clock at night, still light. With not a vehicle or building in sight, it felt like we had the whole world to ourselves.

And then we heard it. From a distant hill, a lone, high-pitched howl. Soon it was joined by other howls. Wolves! We listened in awe, our hearts singing.

Cow moose and their calves, such as this one, often hang out close to the highway in bear and wolf country. This helps them avoid predators, but vehicle fatalities run high.

Travelers are bound to see bears – boars, sows and cubs – as they travel along the Al-Can.

Stone Sheep ewes take in salt or other minerals near Muncho Lake, British Columbia. Notice the lamb with the third ewe. Meanwhile, other lambs watch their mothers from the safety of a nearby slope.

For us, the drive to Alaska was the fulfillment of lifelong dreams. I used to pore over my grandfather’s back issues of Field and Stream and Outdoor Life, devouring anything and everything written about the Canadian and Alaskan wilderness. For both of us, the experiences we had on this trip exceeded our imaginations.

Less than a year later, we would be saying goodbye to friends in Sacramento and leaving behind our beloved E Street craftsman bungalow, a yard full of orange, lemon, grapefruit, lime, apple, cherry, peach and pear trees, and our long runs along the beautiful American River. We’d be trading our patch of raspberries for wild cloudberries, our fresh tomatoes for canned.

When we first got our C-Dory, we envisioned weekends to Bodega Bay and other ports along the California and Oregon Coast. We never imagined it would take us all the way to Alaska and a new life.

The C-Dory has a cuddy cabin that comfortably sleeps two, a small dinette in the cabin, and an amazing amount of storage. A dependable Coleman stove served as our gas range.

Found Berries

It was a rainy day in late July. We were driving through British Colombia on our way back from Alaska two summers ago. The forested scene around us was lush and green. We were listening to a book on tape and taking in all the shades of green washed in a fresh downpour. We turned a corner and were met with a shocking hillside of red splashes against the green. Thimbleberries, Jack told me. He said they taste ok – a little grainy. We pulled over, donned our rain gear and headed out armed with empty cups.

The first one I picked fell apart in my hand. I tasted it. Wow! Sweet berry with a smooth seedless texture. They were beautiful. Fire engine red specks begging to be harvested. I picked and ate until my cup was full and I was soaked. These beautiful fragile berries were meant to be eaten right off the bush. My cup of harvested berries looked like a smoothie in no time at all.

Something about the combination of the lush drenched green and fresh picked berries found in the middle of a terrific drive…what a great memory.