Get in Line

The commercial salmon troller (not to be mistaken for a trawler) is shown here in early June, all tiddled up, ready to leave for the summer fishing season in the Queen Charlotte Islands (now called Haida Gwaii). But now that the season has ended, the boat is a bit tired and ready for some TLC. Like every summer, it has taken a beating, pounding into the waves in bad weather. Rigging, fishing lines, gear,  equipment, and even other boats have rubbed on its hull.

The question friends and acquaintances most often ask after it’s all over, is “How was your season?”

The main thing is to survive the elements, stay safe from the many hazards that can befall a fisherman. Beyond that, it’s a case of trying to be in the right place at the right time and hook some salmon that happen to be swimming by.

Commercial fishermen work hard to supply us with fish to eat. Turns out though, that we humans have to get in line. No, I don’t mean the line in the grocery store. I mean get in line behind the more aggressive predators. Here’s how it comes to be that way.

This year, the Captain tells me, it has been an exercise in frustration. Yes, there were good days, but there were extra obstacles besides the ongoing bad weather. The blue shark below is one example. Often they are quick to take advantage of the salmon’s inability to escape the hook. This one was unlucky and bit the lure himself.

Sometimes the Captain might hook a salmon and before he can get it into the boat, a shark has helped himself to a meal.  Here is what’s left of the fish after the shark has taken a bite. I’ve blurred out the deckhand’s face for the sake of his anonymity.

And then there are the pyrosomes, a new phenomenon in northern waters this year. They are not really a jellyfish although they could easily be mistaken for them. They are really small creatures (zooids)  held together in a colony by a gelatinous substance. If they break apart, they just multiply and grow again. Soon we could be overrun … er .. overswum?? with them.

The deckhand holds the hoochie (a lure meant to simulate a squid), which has the hook hidden inside its rubbery, synthetic tentacles. Some pyrosomes are snagged on the steel cable and slide down to where the monofilament line is attached, while others are snagged on the monofilament line itself and slide down to the flasher or the hoochie beyond it.   A hook that is covered with pyrosomes won’t attract a fish, so the lines have to be cleaned off constantly.And then we have the same old deadly predators, the sea lions, who often follow a boat, lazily waiting for a salmon to be caught so they can snatch it off the line for their own easy meal.

With a lot of stress and frustration, the fisherman does his best to catch enough fish to sell to the buyers who will supply the stores to feed humans. Looks like we have  to get in line behind these more aggressive feeders and take what they leave us.

51 thoughts on “Get in Line

  1. Yes, and don’t forget whales. We enjoyed watching them breach and frolic this summer just off Malcolm Island. Beautiful animals to watch but in no time they scare the fish away after helping themselves to as many as they can catch. The sport fisherman get discouraged too. However our crew caught enough to have a few good feeds.

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    • Are you talking about killer whales (orcas)? For sure they are a sight the fishermen don’t want to see. They eat a lot of salmon, and everything else in sight. Not my favourite animals. Humpbacks are a different thing. Love to see them, and there are often sightings of them in the Charlottes.

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  2. Hi Anneli,
    Thanks for that very interesting post. sighhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh when I see the boats in the evening glow. Makes me want to be at the helm again. For me, it has been sailing-boats, but still.
    As to “getting in line”: I was thinking that we humans are at the end of the evolutionary line. So it’s only fitting that we are at the end of the food line, too. Hopefully being AT the end of the evolutionary line will not mean that we will be the end of the evolutionary line, too. I sometimes have my doubt about this, though.
    I wish you a wonderful week,
    Pit

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    • Yes, it always looks so inviting when the weather is calm, but then the wind comes up a bit more than we like and cowards like me run back to terra firma. But if you’ve done any sailing and like it, you’re tougher than I am! I get too seasick to enjoy it much.

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      • Well, depending on where we were, we opted for the safety of a harbour. On the open seas, though, we had to take it as it came, unless we could avoid a storm by altering our course. Luckily we never mey severe weather. I remember, tough, that once we had a thunderstorm close by and I was really afraid. And on that same trip we had to spend a few days in the harbour because of a storm too strong to go out in. We nearly missed the deadline to return the boat.
        Luckily, I don’t get seasick. 🙂

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  3. Hi there…loved this post!!!!

    However, swamped by all of the packing up as we leave our island home; I hope that I told you we have sold the property! OMG…maybe not. Do forgive my oversight but I am overwhelmed by the endless boxes. Never ending.

    We will move to a small patio home in north Nanaimo in about two weeks time…can’t wait! it is our turn key summer home as Mexico awaits…big hugs…Jan

    ________________________________

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  4. Love the post Anneli. I bought Copper River last week and spoke to the young man at Costco who was arranging the cooler case. He was pleased to hear about my brother being a commercial salmon fisherman and he enjoyed the small amount of knowledge I had about fishing .

    Halibut next!!

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    • Thanks, Ursula. I wish I could have been along for the ride (without getting seasick and without leaving home – haha) and taken a lot of pictures with my Nikon. The Captain did what he could with his Fuji and it turned out not too bad, but he was too busy working to take a lot of pictures.

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    • There are also salmon sharks in those northern waters. They are about the same length as the blue sharks (2 to 3 meters) but salmon sharks are much heavier (fatter around the middle). The salmon sharks are also a problem for commercial salmon fishermen.

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  5. Holy Cow, that shark is huge! Could they serve it up for dinner? Was it dead? I saw blood on its gills.

    Those pyrosomes sound like gremlins. Don’t get water on them/don’t break them apart or they’ll multiply. Yikes.

    This was pretty interesting to this pampered city girl who doesn’t question how, she just goes to the store and buys. 😉

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  6. Anneli, the line is long in this food chain. The path to a happy, great load of caught fish is rather wraught with nature’s predators and strange pyrosomes. This was real, this was dangerous but the Captain is home again, hurrah, safe and sound! Whew! Phew! I bet you reward him with a hot shower and a delicious meal, dear!
    My post on Orion’s Gift book review will post tomorrow, Tuesday. Hope to have a spellbound group and feel free to respond and enjoy your friends and fellow bloggers. It was a wonderful book! 💞 📚

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  7. Thanks for the glimpse into a salmon fisherman’s season, Anneli. So fascinating. I suppose being out on the sea isn’t all romance and adventures. 😀 The photo of the troller and its reflection is beautiful. Glad the captain is home safe and sound.

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    • I’m always glad too when he has made it home safely. The weather is not often calm off the west coast of the Charlottes, as it is in some of these photos, and there are way more things that can go wrong than what could go right. I guess it’s the challenge that keeps the fishermen going back for more. That peaceful picture of the troller with the reflection is taken in Comox Harbour before the season. Very deceiving if a person thought fishing was like that, but it makes for a good start to the season.

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    • Net fish (IMHO) are an inferior product because they get squished, and the whole idea of netting, whether it’s gillnetting or seining, bothers me because of the by-catch. Trawling stirs up the ocean floor, which is also not so good for the environment, but trolling means catching the fish one at a time and for the most part it is a targeted fishery so you don’t catch a lot of unintended fish (and birds and other sea life). The pyrosomes are new to the north this year. I had never heard of them before but apparently they are more prevalent in warmer waters. Sometimes the currents bring strange sea life to the north.

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