Posts Tagged ‘pink salmon’

Canadian rough fish: delicious but bony

July 31, 2017

The prep and the time that it took

For the sinker, the line, and the hook

And don’t forget bacon

For the rig that you’re makin’

When you fish the lake or the brook.

Synopsis: I’m a Family Practitioner from Sioux City, Iowa. In 2010 I danced back from the brink of burnout, and honoring a 1 year non-compete clause, traveled and worked in out-of-the-way places in Alaska, Nebraska, Iowa, and New Zealand. After three years working with a Community Health Center, I went back to traveling and adventures in temporary positions. Assignments in Alaska, rural Iowa, suburban Pennsylvania and western Nebraska have followed.  I finished my most recent assignment in Clarinda on May 18.  Right now I’m in northern British Columbia, getting a first-hand look at the Canadian system. Any identifiable patient information has been included with permission.

A lot of people in this town do a lot of fishing.   And while I really enjoy the sport, my lack of knowledge, skill, and experience give the fish quite an advantage.  I approach the problem like I approach a clinical case with unclear references: I ask the successful.  Anglers love to talk and show off their cell phone pictures.

I got clues to several spots where the fish congregate. I bought swivels, hooks, sinkers, lures, and a net.   The panel consensus for bait, to my surprise, came down to bacon.  For a lot of reasons, I haven’t bought bacon for decades, but I ignored all those nitrites on the other side of the plastic, and bought a kilo of ends and trimmings.

The real commitment came when I paid for my license.

So on Sunday morning, Bethany and I put the bug spray, sunscreen, and bear spray into her backpack, loaded the pole and my lunch box (I don’t have a real tackle box) into the car, and set off for one of the local myriad of lakes, the most commonly recommended spot.

With a breeze strong enough to deter mosquitos, and skies fresh washed by heavy rain the night before, we pulled onto a spit of land and parked in the shade.

I can’t tell you why I can handle worms and body parts without revulsion, but bacon makes my skin crawl. Still, I got a good hunk of it on the hook, and casted it into the wind.  The idea of this rig is to put the sinkers on the bottom and have the bait floating free.  Then I sat down on a log.  Bethany, who helped assemble the equipment, sat down to read.

My mind drifted.

More serious, better equipped fisherman would have a truck and a boat. Or at least a good size cooler, a chair, and a real tackle box.  But I learned in archery that the more seriously you take something, the less fun you’re having when you do it.  And, at this stage of the game, I can’t blame the pole for angling failure.

Then the rod thumped in my hand. I tried jerking the pole to set the hook but the sinkers had wedged up against something on the bottom.  I jerked, and pulled this way and that, and started to reel in the line.  Of course by that time the fish had thrown the hook.

I kept cranking, knowing I’d have to rebait.

Then the rod thumped again, and I realized the fish hadn’t thrown the hook.

I pulled in an 18 inch fish that I couldn’t identify. With Bethany’s help, I dispatched him.  I put more bacon on the hook (not as bad the second time), and cast again.

The second fish took the bait but not the hook.

The third fish, of the same species as the first, took the hook deep and, though smaller, couldn’t survive release.

We now had enough fish for a meal for two. And as much fun as fishing is, I don’t harm animals except for food and self-defense.

I fried the two fish, both a bit big for the frying pan. We found the flesh tasty but bony.

I changed clothes in the afternoon and went over to the hospital

My patient, one of those who know more about fishing than I do, identified the fish as a pikeminnow (formerly called squaw fish), a rough or coarse fish without limit or size restrictions.

Fish snobbery fills the angling world; Iowans turn their noses up at the invasive silver carp, Alaskans won’t eat pink salmon, and fly fishermen display bumper stickers saying “To spin is to sin.”

But I was thrilled to catch a rough fish the length of my forearm. Even if I had to touch bacon.



A tour, follow up on drama and irony, and a very bad pun

September 8, 2013

The eggs of the salmon, the roe

Brings in plenty of dough.

But as the workers grew fewer,

We took a fine tour,

And filled in a tale of woe.

Synopsis:  I’m a family practitioner from Sioux City, Iowa.  I danced back from the brink of burnout in 2010, and, honoring a one-year non-compete clause, went to have adventures and work in out-of-the-way locations.  After jobs in Alaska, New Zealand, Iowa, and Nebraska, I returned home and took up a part-time, 54 hour a week position with a Community Health Center.  I’m taking a working vacation now in Petersburg, Alaska.

Bethany and I had the chance to tour the salmon cannery the day before we departed Petersburg.  Even at the end of the season we left impressed.

This year’s run of pink (or chum) salmon broke records, as did the number of pounds of salmon packed (56 million and counting, when we left).  Each fish, sorted on the tender before arrival at the cannery, runs through another sort before it enters the processing line. The outside of the cannery, that interfaces with the fishing boats and tenders via enormous vacuum cleaners, gets the name Beach Crew.

It doesn’t look like a beach but the people get to work outside.  A good part of that job consists of sorting fish, and they reject a fair number on the basis of species or advanced maturity.

Technology has improved the problem of by-catch, the taking of fish unintentionally.  King salmon, for example, having suffered in numbers, can’t be sold but can be kept and returned to the captain of the crew that caught it.

Workers can tell from inspection which fish have come too close to spawning and had the palatability of their flesh deteriorate, and we saw a fair number of fish rejected thereby.

In the Egg Room, we watched the processing of salmon roe, and learned that some years the roe brings more money than the fish.  The best of the best goes to Japan; the next two grades down get shipped to Russia.  Off-shore Japanese and Russian interests pay their own workers in sorting, and, to a limited extent, in packing.  The eggs take an enormous amount of salt.  A very large ship brings the refrigerated, not frozen, ikura across the Pacific.  I made the observation, that no matter how big such a vessel, if it functions thus we must call it a roe boat.

Five pressure cookers, each five feet in diameter and thirty yards long, cook the fish.  The hand trucks that enter the cookers each carry five layers of 96 cans.  Moving the cans on those carts requires an enormous expenditure of energy.

The facility freezes fish all year long, but freezes more when the cannery work finishes.  As we walked through chilling rooms at 40 degrees below zero I got a chance to talk about the process for chilling hog carcasses back home.

As the tour progressed, different people mentioned the young man I saw terminated in the street two days before (see previous post).  As the 16 hour work days exacted their toll, his behavior became more and more bizarre.  This person had seen him near the Laundromat, that person had seen him angrily gesticulating en route to the bar, extending his middle finger at inanimate objects.  Another heard he’d been in a fight and the police became involved.

All hoped he’d avail himself of his plane ticket that afternoon.

In the end I figured the 16 hour days had pushed him past his limit.  I had seen sleep deprivation induce major psychopathology before, in the aftermath of the New Zealand earthquake.

And I worried about myself and my workload at home.



August 19, 2013

Sometimes there’s a treatment delay

By some hours or even a day. 

I do what I can

In a multi-port plan

Keep them working if there’s a reasonable way. 

Synopsis:  I’m a family practitioner from Sioux City, Iowa.  I danced back from the brink of burnout in 2010, and, honoring a one-year non-compete clause, went to have adventures and work in out-of-the-way locations.  After jobs in Alaska, New Zealand, Iowa, and Nebraska, I returned home and took up a part-time, 54 hour a week position with a Community Health Center.  I’m taking a working vacation now in Petersburg, Alaska.

Bethany and I got up early and drove out to Sandy Beach, about a mile down the coast, as the tide reached its ebb.  We walked out on the tidal flats.

Tides can run 23 feet here from low tide to high.  Three creeks empty into Frederick Sound here, the flow braids across the area exposed by the dropping water.  As we walked we saw dead pink salmon scattered here and there, their eyes and bellies pecked out by the seabirds.  A commercial fishing boat lay at anchor a hundred yards from the water’s edge.

We searched for the remains of a fish trap the Natives had started constructing 2,000 years ago and kept using till a hundred years ago.  We didn’t find it.

But we saw sea lions.  And we saw salmon with bad timing trying to swim up the creeks’ trickle across the tidal flats.  We crunched across iridescent blue mussel shells as the rain came harder and harder.

After breakfast I walked to work.  In the clinic I attended a number of commercial fishermen.  The more people work in an industry, the more people will come to harm in it, and fishing doesn’t warrant an exception.  What do they catch?  Mostly salmon, cod, and halibut; if they want to run risks in the off-season they go for crab.

But the more people I talk to the more I find have gotten away from crabbing because of the danger, and they don’t miss it.

Every time I have minutes and opportunity, I quiz people on the industry and I learn more.  I still haven’t figured out the relationship of the tenders to the fishing boats except that a tender can hold 700,000 pounds of fish and a typical fishing boat might only hold 120,000.  Of course the peak load diminishes with bad weather, sometimes by 20%.

People work close to machinery in fishing boats, things happen suddenly and unexpectedly, and bodies come away damaged.  Commercial pressures bring stress, family conflicts make things worse.  People delay treatment because the injury might happen two days out of port.

Sometimes I can run lab after an examination but the patient leaves with his boat on the next tide, and I have to say, When you get to Juneau, show the next doctor this piece of paper.  And you HAVE to see a doctor at your next port.

I do what I can to keep them working.

It reminds me of home, when the farmers get sick or hurt during harvest.

Whales, eagles, and salmon

August 18, 2013

The fish will never ask why

Their biology demands that they try

The end couldn’t be sadder

For at the end of the ladder

The salmon spawn and inevitably die

Synopsis:  I’m a family practitioner from Sioux City, Iowa.  I danced back from the brink of burnout in 2010, and, honoring a one-year non-compete clause, went to have adventures and work in out-of-the-way locations.  After jobs in Alaska, New Zealand, Iowa, and Nebraska, I returned home and took up a part-time, 54 hour a week position with a Community Health Center.  I’m taking a working vacation now in Petersburg, Alaska.

Life in Barrow, Alaska finds the rhythm of its heartbeat with the whale, Keosauqua with the deer.  Our home town of Sioux City, Iowa breathes with the corn cycle.  Petersburg, Alaska has its pulse with the fish, in particular, the salmon.

A Norwegian fisherman opened a cannery and founded the town about a century ago, and Petersburg has depended on salmon since.  They also catch cod, crab, shrimp, and halibut, but without salmon, the town wouldn’t exist.

Nine hundred seasonal workers came this summer to work 16 hour days in the canneries, and you can find no more than two degrees of separation between anyone in town and the fishing industry.  By the time someone finishes high school here, they have worked in that industry at some level, whether on a fishing boat or in the cannery.

Today we drove out to Hungry Point and watched the same humpback whales we’d seen in Maui.  We had brilliant conversation with two tourists from Australia.  We went a bit further down the coast to Sandy Beach and watched pink salmon desperately trying to swim upstream to spawn and eagles leisurely waiting to feed on them.

We enjoyed the spectacle, and talked to some people from Petersburg.  The rainfall ran short this summer, and the beautiful clear days have come at a price; one can’t have a rain forest without rain.  Streams have to have adequate flow for the salmon to swim.

People who live here will readily say that king, or Chinook salmon taste best, followed by red (sockeye) or silver (coho).  They speak with disdain of the pink (humpies), saying they’re good for cat food.  And no one even mentions the chum or dog salmon in terms of human food.  Yet the canneries this year will mostly process the pink salmon.

We drove out south on Mitkof Highway along the Wrangell Narrows.  We found the fish hatchery closed, and by then the good hard rain made viewing salmon swimming impossible.  On the way back to town we stopped at the Falls Creek fish ladder, which we found despite the abysmal signage.  While the rain came harder and harder we stood and looked over the concrete, manmade steps that parallel the roaring rapids.

It took a while till we knew what to look for, then the drama of the eternal struggle of life’s longing for itself played out in front of us, salmon desperately swimming against an overwhelming current to find a place to lay and fertilize eggs before they die.

No Pacific salmon survives the reproductive process.