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The reds are coming.
August 25, 2010 9:45 PM   Subscribe

Four years after being spawned Fraser River Sockeye salmon return to the same creeks in which they were born to mate, spawn and die. Salmon have a strong preference for heavier returns every four years. Prior to 1913 this cycle peaked every second odd year (IE: 1905 - 1909 - 1913). However in 1913 (a year that had a record high 31 million fish harvested) construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway along side the Frasier river resulted in massive rock slides that prevented most of the returning fish from making it to their ancestral streams. Clean up efforts in subsequent years and the construction of fish ladders at Hell's Gate saved the Salmon from extinction and switched peaked returns to every second even year (IE: 2010 - 2014 - 2018) but numbers of fish returning were way down. Until now. This year's projected returns are the highest since 1913's record year and not far short of it. This is bound to make the organizers of Salute to the Sockeye very happy.

Interestingly last year's returns were some of the worst ever and there was plenty of finger pointing and discussion and reports of a complete collapse of fishery. So many of the canneries have reduced operations or gone out of business that there is now a massive shortage of pretty well everything from ice to totes to cans need to process the massive catch the high returns this year are allowing.

UBC fisheries Prof. Carl Walters: "We think there's some complicated kind of delayed ecological interaction effects that a big run can cause poor survival down the road and maybe low runs can cause good survival down the road, but we don't understand the mechanisms at all"

“We’re thrilled the numbers are so great, but the reality is 2009 was a problematic year,”
Carla Shore, a spokesperson for the Cohen Commission said. “We’ll take into account the great numbers this year, but there are still a lot of questions around the long-term sustainability of Fraser River sockeye.”
posted by Mitheral (37 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
Holy shit good news about the population numbers of a delicious fish?

I am flabbergasted.
posted by paisley henosis at 9:50 PM on August 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


Mitheral: Interestingly last year's returns were some of the worst ever and there was plenty of finger pointing and discussion and reports of a complete collapse of fishery.

Oh jeeze, I guess it isn't exactly great news. That'll learn me to read below the fold before I post.
posted by paisley henosis at 9:54 PM on August 25, 2010


"How big do these, uh, Fraser River steelhead get, huh?"

"What's up with you and the questions?"
posted by bwg at 9:56 PM on August 25, 2010


...there is now a massive shortage of pretty well everything from ice to totes to cans need to process the massive catch...

If the biggest problem at the moment is being unable to figure out how to catch and kill all of these fish, then I think things are looking up (and may the shortage continue for a while.)

...we don't understand the mechanisms at all.

Indeed, sir, indeed.
posted by davejay at 10:05 PM on August 25, 2010


Gravlax


2-3 lb skin-on salmon filets (Sockeye is excellent)
1/3 C salt
2/3 C sugar
2 T white pepper
4 t allspice
7 smashed juniper berries
3 T Akavit
2 bunches dill

Maitre’d Sauce

3 T dark French coarse-ground mustard
1 T sugar
1/2 t salt
pinch ground white pepper
1 T vinegar
6 T olive oil
6 T dill



Dry filets and remove little bones. Crush peppers and seasonings in mortar, add salt and sugar. Mix well, and press mixture into filets.

In a glass or ceramic dish, put some dill on the bottom, then one of the filets, skin side down, then more dill, then the other filet, skin side up. Put the thick side of one filet against the other’s thin side. Cover with plastic wrap (not aluminum foil) and put a cutting board or similar on top with some wight on it, such as a brick.

Put in the refrigerator for two days. Thin filets are ready in one day, thicker in two days. Turn the filet over once or twice during this time. Pour off the brine, otherwise the fish will be too salty. Brush off the herbs but do not rinse the fillets. The fish will keep for a week in a refrigerator after pouring off the brine.

Make the Maitre’d Sauce: Mix together the mustard, sugar, salt, pepper, and vinegar. Add the oil in a thin stream as if making mayonnaise. Add the dill. Let the sauce sit for about ten minutes.

Cut off either thin (nearly horizontal) slices, or thick vertical slices, to taste. Don’t cut through the skin. Serve as an appetizer on thin slices of buttered rye bread, with a little lemon juice and some finely chopped dill, or as a main dish with boiled new potatoes and Maitre’d sauce.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 10:06 PM on August 25, 2010 [5 favorites]


I heard on CBC 690 that one of reasons for such a big run this year may be cooler ocean temperatures in the North Pacific. It seems unlikely that this will continue, because as we all know surface water temperatures are generally trending warmer all over the world.

The Fraser River, which was once home to the largest salmon runs on the planet, is dying anyway. Water temperatures of the river itself are warming from year to year, which makes it unsuitable for returning runs. Dams and road-building along tributary watersheds have also destroyed the runs. Massive logging operations have also profoundly affected the ecology traditionally needed to support these runs.

And then there is mountain pine beetle. The epidemic is over, but that's because there is nothing left to eat: the pine forests of the Chilcotin and Cariboo are dead, and this will fundamentally change the hydrology of the Fraser; a new ecosystem is being born.

The Skeena looks like it is headed in the same direction. While the Bulkley watershed has been affected by pine beetle, the rest of the Skeena River system has been pretty safe. However, the northwest corner of the province has suffered from drought during the last few summers, so it seems likely that salmon runs are going to be affected in some way too.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:06 PM on August 25, 2010 [5 favorites]


Recipes aside, the salmon is not just food for humans; there are other creatures that rely on this fish stock. By screwing with the salmon breeding grounds and farming salmon on the coast we are stealing from other ocean-going mammals and making short-term gains in exchange for long-term sustainability.
posted by peeedro at 10:14 PM on August 25, 2010


Unfortunately we can only speculate on the reasons for this unprecedented salmon run, as we have chronically underfunded ocean research in Canada. It's certainly bizarre and totally unexpected, and I will enjoy eating a ridonkulous amount of sockeye this September and hope it is not the very last year I do.
posted by mek at 10:14 PM on August 25, 2010


Me too mek. One of my favouritest things in the whole world is traditional style dried salmon (teeny pic) and the last few years you just could. not. get. it. You better believe I'll be stocking up this year.
posted by Mitheral at 10:32 PM on August 25, 2010


One of my favouritest things in the whole world is traditional style dried salmon (teeny pic) and the last few years you just could. not. get. it. You better believe I'll be stocking up this year.

Man, why have I never seen that before? I'm going to cover the walls of my staircase with that stuff and help myself to a bite every time I ascend or descend.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:37 PM on August 25, 2010


Mei's lost sandal: Put in the refrigerator for two days.

Far be it from me to pull a Nordic, but gravlax (graflax where I'm from) just isn't right unless it's buried in the ground, sand preferred. That sauce is gravy, though :)

A lot of other meats can be prepared in the same way, incidentally, fowl being especially popular. That's a recent development, mind you.
posted by Kattullus at 10:49 PM on August 25, 2010


Fermented seafood products contaminated with soil are one of the most common causes of botulism poisoning, so I'd advise against making homemade gravlax in the traditional style unless you really know what you're doing. (Saltwater sand is defintely mandatory as normal soils are home to botulinium bacteria - your backyard is not suitable for gravlax making)

I have no doubt this'll be a record year for botulism, too.
posted by mek at 10:54 PM on August 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


Well, I didn't say it was safe :) And yeah, sandy seashores preferred. And do take a cab to the nearest hospital if you start seeing double. I said it was was right (and therefore delicious), not not life threatening.

All joking aside, there's a marked taste difference between traditionally made and non-traditionally made gravlax.
posted by Kattullus at 11:00 PM on August 25, 2010


Perhaps one could dig up a pit in their backyard and fill it with salty sand (and maybe line it with cooling elements from freezer chests). Compromise reached!
posted by Burhanistan at 11:02 PM on August 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Salmon have a strong preference for heavier returns every four years.

These sort of cyclical birth booms occur not only in fish, but beaver (about every 10 years a beaver birth boom). Since beavers have an influence on numbers of salmon, they may be busy this year.
posted by stbalbach at 11:04 PM on August 25, 2010


Why not just prepare it on the boat and eat it right there with a little lemon or wasabi-joyu?
posted by clockzero at 11:05 PM on August 25, 2010


Why not just prepare it on the boat and eat it right there with a little lemon or wasabi-joyu?

Watch out for salmon thieves.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:11 PM on August 25, 2010


So apparently in Canada they call elephant ears (the kind at the fair) beaver tails?


I love you guys, but you have to know how funny that sounds to us non-igloo-dwellers.
posted by paisley henosis at 11:30 PM on August 25, 2010


Scott Moorehead, owner of the family business Longliner Seafoods, said sockeye salmon costs are unlikely to drop with the higher-than-expected catch. Although he is selling a boneless filet fish at $20 per pound, he said the "poor quality of fish" being caught means the prices will not vary.


Oh please. After the opening last week, I paid $20 for a whole fish, fresh off the boat at the fish-sales wharf in Steveston. I'd have bought 2 or 3 at those prices, but I was on my motorcycle. I wasn't even aware that there was an opening, I had assumed that the fishery was well and truly dead after last year's complete disaster, and what with all my fisherman buddies having to find other work over the last decade or so. But it was obvious something was going on when I rounded the corner on River Road and saw the river was basically wall-to-wall boats. Hmmm ... I thought, I better head over to the docks and see what's what. That fish was [ulled out of the water at 3 pm or so an ws on the BBQ by 8. It was freaking fabulous.

A 32 hour opening, starting at noon today, means a fish bonanza tomorrow. I'll be there, if anyone wants me to pick one up for them and come collect it ( I live on The Drive ) memail before noon tomorrow with your contact info. If more than 2 people ask, I'll take the Jeep instead of the bike.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 11:36 PM on August 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


In sockeye salmon country we'd probably call that bannock (though we'd be wrong because bannock doesn't have yeast). It's excellent with saskatoon jam. The Whole Wheat Bannock recipe on that page is pretty well what I use though I usually swap part of the water for 7-Up and berries aren't always available. Great camping food, it is fun to cook on a stick.
posted by Mitheral at 11:48 PM on August 25, 2010


$20 a pound is a sad joke. I'd stick to pink at $2/pound until prices crater, but I doubt that'll take longer than a few days.
posted by mek at 12:28 AM on August 26, 2010


From the CBC: B.C. sockeye prices expected to drop.
posted by Turtles all the way down at 12:55 AM on August 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


How amazing to hear some good news about fish populations.
posted by Goofyy at 4:59 AM on August 26, 2010


So apparently in Canada they call elephant ears (the kind at the fair) beaver tails?


I love you guys, but you have to know how funny that sounds to us non-igloo-dwellers.


Yes, elephant ears are much more reasonable.
(At the fair, at the hockey game, skating on the canal, wandering through the Market...I'm excited for my trip to Ottawa now.)
posted by Lemurrhea at 5:14 AM on August 26, 2010


I heard on CBC 690 that one of reasons for such a big run this year may be cooler ocean temperatures in the North Pacific. It seems unlikely that this will continue, because as we all know surface water temperatures are generally trending warmer all over the world.

All the fish biologists I know are pretty pessimistic about the long term. I mean, yes, over the long run, salmon have survived worse, such as massive volcanic activity and the big post-glacial flooding and landscape changes. So not many people are predicting total extinction. But if you combine the ocean issues, including both overfishing and climate changes, with the massive habitat losses inland, it's hard to imagine salmon returning to their pre-settlement levels.
posted by Forktine at 5:43 AM on August 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


So there is a temporary population spike in a threatened species of fish and everyone is excited because now we can kill more of them? And we wonder why the environment is in such trouble.
posted by ChrisHartley at 5:52 AM on August 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


I was just up on San Juan Island for a week. Evidently (I learned this from talking to a fisherman who was selling these fish out of an ice chest at a natural food store), when they come into Puget Sound, they diverge, half travelling south of San Juan Island, the other half going the other way around.

It was fun to sit on the rocks and see these salmon jumping, occasionally, as they went by.

The resident orcas were also happy about this. We could see them hanging out at different points (Salmon Banks, for one), eating as many of these fish as they could.
posted by Danf at 7:31 AM on August 26, 2010


Candied salmon is also yum.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:12 AM on August 26, 2010


Candied salmon is also yum.

Oh hell yes.

California has been without a commercial salmon season for...three years now, I think.

But we were out on a whale-watching trip on Monday. The whole trip was fantastic, and on the way back to the dock, just off Alcatraz, the captain turned the boat and killed the engine so we could watch a sea lion eat a salmon. Sea lions don't have hands (duh), and the salmon was too big to eat in one gulp, so the sea lion was thrashing it in the air and slapping it it down on the surface of the water to rip bites off of it. The salmon would go flying, the gulls would give chase, the sea lion would go after it, and start the whole process over again. It was great.
posted by rtha at 9:08 AM on August 26, 2010


I'm as happy as any Salmon Nation resident, and have licking my chops every time CBC radio interviews another happy fisherman astounded at the size of the run, but it's still a bit unsettling. Last year the "experts" were surprised when 9 million sockeye disappeared. This year they're way off again, in the other direction. My question: can't the DFO buy a new dartboard?
posted by ecourbanist at 9:08 AM on August 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


And speaking on candied salmon, anyone got a recipe they've used and liked? I've seen tons on the internets, but have no way to evaluate if any of them work well. My friend Chuck unfortunately took back the smoker he'd loaned me, but if I bring salmon, I bet he'd let me use it again.
posted by rtha at 9:09 AM on August 26, 2010


The best smoked salmon I've had is cold-smoked. It is a bit more trouble (can't go over 80 deg F) and takes a while, but is much more moist and smokier-tasting. It also lasts much longer than hot-smoked.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 10:08 AM on August 26, 2010


I will enjoy eating a ridonkulous amount of sockeye this September and hope it is not the very last year I do.

Me too mek.


Vansterdam Salmon Jam 2010!
posted by Kirk Grim at 11:57 AM on August 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yes, everyone, guzzle as much as you can, while you can. One good run does not a sustainable fishery make.
posted by doublesix at 12:36 PM on August 26, 2010


Um... doublesix, you do understand how the catchment quota is determined, right?

Anywaze, the opening ends in twenty minutes. So the offer still stands , I will head there tomorrow. If anyone wants a whole fish, let me know. I will be going by and getting them from my regular Blackberry Guy on Finn Road, he told me he expects to have whole dressed fish, caught by his son today, at $3.50 a lb., until Saturday or so.

No more of his awesome, unsprayed Blackberries left though.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 7:48 PM on August 26, 2010


My question: can't the DFO buy a new dartboard?

So I actually work at DFO (disclaimer: not on salmon issues, thankfully), and I find the refrain that DFO is full of incompetent scientists/bureaucrats to be tiresome and offensive. Without hesitation I can say that the people I have worked with there (and especially some of the salmon scientists) are some of the most brilliant, dedicated and under-appreciated (read: underpaid) public servants I have ever encountered. Accurately predicting salmon runs is difficult science, even for the most intellectual minds; to suggest otherwise is ill-informed and lazy.

we have chronically underfunded ocean research in Canada

And this. Though, to be fair, of the money DFO does get for science in the Pacific Region, a lot of it goes to salmon.
posted by just_ducky at 8:11 PM on August 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


he told me he expects to have whole dressed fish, caught by his son today, at $3.50 a lb., until Saturday or so.

*cries*
posted by rtha at 8:12 PM on August 26, 2010


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