Tag Archives: Skipper Otto

Gillnet Fishing, A How-to Manual

So, this whole fishing thing… what’s it like? Here’s a short summary of the process, based on what I’ve seen so far…

20110627_05-17-48.jpg1) Pick your starting spot. Undoubtedly there’s a ton of experience and wisdom involved, but to the undescerning eye it looks an awful lot like throwing a dart at a map. As the day progresses, based on your own catch, the reports from your friends, and rumours from further afield, you adjust your location accordingly. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) sets all sorts of rules on the general areas you can fish and if there are any special restrictions to protect species of fish you’re not fishing for. In our case, we were required to stay a half-mile offshore on one side and a mile offshore on the other to let a coast-hugging species of fish get by us. Also, the area in which we’re allowed to fish is specifically proscribed by the DFO

20110627_06-00-46.jpg2) Set your gear. In the case of a gillnetter, your “gear” is a net (called “mesh”) of specific size for the species you’re trying to catch. Fish that are too small can swim right through the mesh and fish that are too large just bounce off. For fish that are the right size, they go headfirst into the net and stop when they get stuck, usually when the net is as far as their dorsal fin (the bit one on their back). If they try to back out, the net gets caught in their gills, holding them in. (Hence the name: gillnet). The net has a lead-core rope strung along the bottom and a string of “corks”, or floats, on top. Large orange marker buoys are attached to the start and end of the net to help make them more visible to other passing boats. You roll it all off the net drum, as seen below, and get it in the water in a slightly arcing shape. There are specific restrictions, also, on how long and how deep your net can be.

20110627_06-05-52.jpg3) Let your gear “soak”. In really calm weather, like we have today, you can actually see the “corks” bobbing when a fish hits the net; if you see several floats go below the water, you know you’ve got a big one. “Soak time” is another restriction the DFO can put on you when they’re trying to protect a species at risk; shorter soak times mean that it’s less likely that something will get caught in your net and die. In our case, there was little concern and so there were no restrictions placed on us. Also, every once in awhile, we’d cruise along the length of the cork line to get an idea of how many fish were in the net.

20110627_06-55-10.jpg4) Reel in your gear. When it’s time to bring it aboard, you first have to hook one of the large buoys and attach the rope to your net drum. Then, you start to reel it in. As you reel fish in, you have to untangle them from the net; if it’s a species you’re not supposed to catch and looks pretty energetic still, it can go straight back in the water. There are also “revival” tanks that are dark boxes with sea-water pumped in; the water moves pretty quickly and has a good amount of oxygen, so it perks the fish right up, before they’re released back into the water.

20110627_07-42-54.jpg5) Count and store your fish. The fish, when caught, have to be carefully counted before being placed in your fish holds, which are full of salt water/ice slush. For some species, like spring salmon (but not sockeye) they have to be cleaned (gutted) right away because enzymes in the gut can break down the flesh quite quickly.

6) Lather, rinse and repeat. At least until your fishing day ends, which is either when the DFO has said to stop (10:00PM, in our case), when the weather becomes too rough or when you have a couple “water catches” (nets with no fish) in a row and feel dejected enough to stop.

20110628_07-47-25.jpgThe wind is starting to pick up here and the waves are getting bigger; apparently this is common for the body of water we’re in right now. We’ll see how long we feel like continuing to fish, before retreating to the bay for the night before resuming tomorrow. I’m sure I’ll be asleep quickly, so I’ll wish you a goodnight for now.

During the trip, you can either check this blog for the latest entries, or you can go to this interactive map of all the blog posts related to this trip. You can also find photos from the trip on Flickr.

Fishing, Day One

20110627_05-03-01-2.jpgIt’s just after 5:00AM on our first day of fishing; we’re out of bed and heading to where we’re going to drop our nets first this morning. On the radio, Otto, Terry and Rod are all staking out their spots, fairly far removed from one another; in theory, that’s of benefit to all three so that they have a better sense faster of where the good fishing is going to be.

Already, most of the others who anchored in the same bay as us last night have headed off to claim their spot. It’s not looked on very kindly when one fisherman fishes too close to another, so those who head out early usually get the best spots.

20110627_05-03-28.jpgNets can’t get dropped into the water until 6:00AM, but there’s still a lot that needs to be done: breakfast needs to be cooked (bacon and eggs, of course!), the pumps that feed the revival tanks need to be switched on, Otto needs to suit up into his rubber gear and the big orange floats need to be in position to be deployed.

The sun hasn’t peeked over the mountains yet, but it’s looking like it’s going to be a great day; winds are calm and the tides don’t look to be very strong. It’s looking like a good day for fishing. Let’s hope it’s also a good day for catching.

During the trip, you can either check this blog for the latest entries, or you can go to this interactive map of all the blog posts related to this trip. You can also find photos from the trip on Flickr.

Arrival on the Fishing Grounds

20110626_15-59-08.jpgHello from the fishing grounds! We’ve just met up with Otto’s fishing buddies, Rod and Terry, in a long protected bay where we’ll be anchored for the night. There are over fifty other gillnet boats here as well, waiting for tomorrow at 6:00AM when we can all start fishing. Most of the boats are in pairs or threes, tied up together with one boat dropping their anchor.

I’ve come to learn that fisherman are a competitive group (squeezing accurate information about fishing conditions from these guys is as easy as holding on to a greased pig.) That said, everyone seems to have a couple or three friends that they can trust, sharing (mostly accurate) info as they try to assess the scene. I suspect those are exactly the groupings I see people tied up into.

20110626_19-08-13.jpgThe trip up here was uneventful, and shorter than expected, possibly because of all the long days of traveling we’ve had just to get here. We’re about six hours north of Prince Rupert and can see Alaska from here. (I joked on Facebook this afternoon that Sarah Palin might be able to see Russia from her house, but we can see Alaska from the boat…)

The area we’re in is huge and beautiful; there’s still snow on the mountains around us, but the water is glassy calm.

Let’s hope it’s like that tomorrow. Also, tonight will be my first night on the boat where we’re not tied up to a dock to sleep; I wonder how much we’ll move around when we’re only held in place by an anchor.

During the trip, you can either check this blog for the latest entries, or you can go to this interactive map of all the blog posts related to this trip. You can also find photos from the trip on Flickr.

Heading off from Prince Rupert

20110625_10-58-43.jpgIt’s been a bit of a whirlwind since we hit Prince Rupert. Before tying up, we hit the fuel dock and filled the Eldorado back up; it seems that we burned through almost $600 in diesel to get from Port Hardy to here. Running a boat sure isn’t cheap.

Not long after we got into Prince Rupert, a local Twitter-friend who’s also a host for CBC Radio Prince Rupert interviewed both Otto and I about the Community Supported Fishery and my documentation on this blog. As soon as it gets broadcast (possibly on Wednesday), I’ll be sure to post the interview online.

20110626_08-11-30.jpgIn the afternoon, I did a little poking around Rupert. Not unlike North Vancouver, it’s nestled between the mountains and the water and even though it’s not a large town (only about 13,000 people), it’s still an impressively diverse and active community. The wharf we’re staying at is in an area called Cow Bay; everything is painted in black and white splotches–it’s significantly more adorable than it sounds. The cruise ship terminal is nearby, as are a number of interesting-looking stores that I’ll have to come back and visit when I’m back in town. I also stopped at Breakers, a nice (and busy) waterfront pub, to use their wireless internet to send off a few emails. (Buy a beer and get free internet? Sounds like a great deal to me…)

20110625_19-10-58.jpgAfter poking around Cow Bay for a bit, I wandered up to the Museum of Northern BC. In addition to information about the history of the area, it hosts a breathtaking collection of North Coast art. There’s something special about them being displayed so much closer to their originating communities, some of which we’ve already visited on this journey.

Not long afterward, I wandered back to the boat and found that Otto was still “up-town” at the Safeway, so I decided to take a little wander around the docks to take photos. That’s about when I met the guy with the dungeness crab that I mentioned in yesterday’s video.

20110626_08-19-13.jpgThis morning I had breakfast at the Crest Hotel; their restaurant has an incredible view of the water and the island across from from Rupert. They also make a mean smoked salmon eggs benedict. On my way there, I stopped to offer to help a group of Filipino men take a picture of themselves and by the end of the ensuing conversation, I got offered a ride on their Ecuador-bound grain freighter. Unfortunately, I have a great girlfriend and an exploding garden to get back to so I had to turn them down. After breakfast I wandered back to the boat so that we can head up toward the Nass River fishing grounds, a trip that’ll take about six hours and put us within a stone’s throw of Alaska. Time to shove off!

During the trip, you can either check this blog for the latest entries, or you can go to this interactive map of all the blog posts related to this trip. You can also find photos from the trip on Flickr.

Good Evening from Prince Rupert

20110625_13-08-30.jpgI’ve been a little negligent in my blogging the last couple of days; I’ve got a ton to tell you about our evening/morning in Port Edward (just south of Prince Rupert) and our day in Prince Rupert. Unfortunately, we leave Prince Rupert today at noon to head up to the fishing grounds so that we’re ready to drop the nets in the water at 6AM tomorrow morning, fishing hard until 10PM at night, before doing it all over again on Tuesday. by Wednesday morning we’ll be back in Port Edward, getting the fish on a truck to get down to you. I’m sure that Sonia and Shaun will be in touch soon about that pick up.

In the meantime, a funny thing happened to me on the docks last night…

During the trip, you can either check this blog for the latest entries, or you can go to this interactive map of all the blog posts related to this trip. You can also find photos from the trip on Flickr.