Archive for May, 2012

Why Seattle has an Interest in Bristol Bay

Friday, May 11th, 2012
Why Seattle has an Interest in Bristol Bay

One of the newer outrages that Rep. Don Young, Congressman for all Alaskans who voted for him, has to face is the U.S. Senator from Washington, Maria Cantwell.  What has she done to incur his infamous wrath?  She has stuck her nose in the business of Alaskan resource management.  You see, one of Senator Cantwell’s main issues is sustainability of salmon populations and the fishing jobs they provide.  Not only has she been working to secure funding for the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund – from the Columbia River to Puget Sound, salmon populations are struggling to recover after decades of habitat destruction due to natural resource development and urban pollution – she is working to support all intact, healthy salmon ecosystems in North America.  Why?  Because Seattle fishermen could use more jobs in their area and they own permits for commercial fishing in the Bristol Bay region.  She’s even become directly involved in the EPA’s Bristol Bay watershed assessment, which puts her in Don Young’s cross hairs because he has introduced legislation that would strip the EPA of its authority under the Clean Water Act, Section 404(c), to conduct such an assessment.   

Setting aside the political squabbles and power trips, there is a very real tangible connection between Bristol Bay and Seattle that warrants involvement from a U.S. Senator who represents Washington constituents.  When I was out in Bristol Bay last summer, I met three brothers from Seattle who each own their own drift boats and permits.  Like many permit holders, they spend their winters down in Seattle while their boats sit out the winter in Naknek.  When the time comes, they fly up to King Salmon and get their boats ready for another season of sockeye salmon fishing.  And then, sometime in mid-to-late July, depending on how good their season was, they catch a Pen Air or Alaska Airlines flight back to Anchorage and continue on home to Seattle.  According to the Alaska Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission, there are currently 742 drift gillnet permit holders (out of a total of 2154) for Bristol Bay sockeye salmon who reside in the Washington state.  That’s 34% of all Bristol Bay sockeye salmon drift gillnet commercial permits held by residents of Washington.  (Life is too short for me to look on a map and determine all of the towns and cities that are in the greater Seattle area and compare those names with permit addresses to give you a more accurate picture of how many permits are held specifically by Seattle-area residents.)   

And Seattle doesn’t provide just residency for permit holders, it also provides a vibrant consumer market ready to purchase and enjoy all manner of Alaskan seafood.  When I took an early morning stroll down downtown Seattle’s famous Pike Place Market, I saw a lot of fresh seafood – it’s truly one of the wonders of the place, along with the amazing selections of fresh flowers.  But I was looking at the seafood, because I wanted to see how important Alaskan seafood was to this market.  After passing up and down the full length of the market, I could guess that about half of all the seafood came from Alaska.  You could see large banners celebrating the coming Copper River sockeye salmon opener, other signs touting the clear, clean and fresh waters of Alaska and the associated quality of seafood that comes from it. When speaking to Kevin Davis, head chef and owner of the Steelhead Diner and Blueacre Seafood restaurants, he said that people come all over from the country to Seattle for its selection of Alaskan seafood.  A once-bustling seafood generator itself, the Puget Sound commercial fishing markets had collapsed over decades due to resource development and urban pollution.  No longer able to fish their own waters as much, Seattle fishermen had reached up into Alaskan waters and found a way to satisfy the strong demand for fresh seafood in Seattle.    And visitors responded, answering the call to experience seafood from the most pure waters remaining in the United States for sustainable commercial fishing.  

A Chef for Sustainable Fisheries

Friday, May 11th, 2012
A Chef for Sustainable Fisheries

Walking into the Blueacree Seafood restaurant in downtown Seattle, my photographic eye lit up at the incredible contours, lines, graphics and colors creating the atmosphere.  I was there to meet Kevin Davis, head chef and owner, along with being the owner of the Steelhead Diner just a few hundred feet up the hill from the Pike Place Market.   

I contacted Kevin as part of the fieldwork for my Bristol Bay project.  An avid fly fisherman, Kevin features a lot of Alaskan seafood on the menu at his restaurants.  He first heard about the Pebble Mine issue while watching the movie Red Gold. Since then, he has become a culinary warrior in the effort to inform the public about the proposed Pebble Mine, often partnering with Trout Unlimited as part of its campaign to stop the mine’s development. 

 One of the dominant features in the Blueacre restaurant is a large marlin.  One would think that a restaurateur who emphasizes sustainable fisheries would not have a marlin on the wall, but he placed it there is a reminder of how species are impacted by overfishing pressures caused by demands in the restaurant industry. 

 Kevin sees the development of the Pebble Mine as a threat to the sustainability of the Bristol Bay sockeye fishery, as well as the world class sport fishing represented at numerous lodges in the region.  At my request, he prepared a dish featuring a filet of Alaskan sockeye salmon, served with some vegetables and a glass of Pinot Noir.  I long ago envisioned a line of photos showing the progress from where a sockeye is caught in Bristol Bay waters to where it was served on a restaurant in Seattle – this completed the loop.  It was also incredibly delicious.   

When I mentioned to Kevin how many of the fish mongers at Pike Place Market were offering Alaskan seafood, he noted that Alaskan seafood is very important to the Seattle market.  Decades ago, the Puget Sound region had its own vibrant fishery, including Chinook (king) and sockeye (red) salmon, but it had been severely impacted by urban pollution and natural resource development, such as logging.  Seattle purchasers looked to Alaska to fill the gap, and now Seattle visitors go to Pike Place Market and various Seattle restaurants specifically looking for Alaskan seafood. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The lynx hunt

Monday, May 7th, 2012
The lynx hunt

It all started with some caribou.  It was our first morning in Denali National Park & Preserve – I was there with fellow photographers Chris Beck and Matthew Brown.  We had overslept because someone who was in charge of the morning alarm thought he would sleep in for another five minutes, which turned out to be nearly an hour and a half.  We gathered our senses and headed into the park.  Somewhere about halfway between the park entrance from the Parks Highway and Savage River, we saw another vehicle pulled over, and a photographer out of his vehicle.  Sure sign that there was wildlife afoot.

We saw quickly he had focused on three caribou that were grazing in rocky wash, downhill and to the south of the road.  I captured a few images, but was really waiting for the caribou to do something other than grazing.  Heads up, perhaps profile shots, even better looking toward the cameras, but not as much grazing and certainly not the classic “butt shot.”  Then, Chris’s rather intensive whispering and gesturing got my attention, and I looked ahead of me on the road to see an adult lynx, just sitting upright, taking in the morning’s events.  He was maybe about a hundred yards down the road from us.

I quickly ignored the caribou and turned my 500mm toward the lynx.  Slowly, the other photographers started to follow suit, and then it was just a bunch of shutter clicks and mirror slaps as we all captured this beautiful animal, just sitting there without a care in the world.  Then, something got his attention, and he went into stalking mode – something I have seen my own cats do on countless occasions.  I could not see what he was after, but he was focused, on a mission, ignoring the world around him.  Once the lynx got a little more than halfway across the road, he just … stopped.  Then he dropped to a crouch, and just sat; watching, waiting.  I saw what had drawn his attention, the thing that is top of the menu for lynx in Alaska – a snowshoe hare.  Nibbling on some willows on the edge of the road, this hare was completely oblivious to the photographers, the caribou, and the lynx that had its sights on a morning meal.

As the lynx waited, Chris, Matt and I worked to get closer, closer and yet closer to the lynx and hare.  We would move twenty feet, then stop and wait, capturing a few more images.  Then we would get up, move closer and stop.  Neither the hare nor the lynx noticed or cared.  Then, from behind us came what seemed like a cacophonous electronic squeal – the other photographer ( we came to call him “DB” for the rest of the trip) had opened his car door with the key in the ignition, letting out the “your key’s in the ignition and your door is open STUPID” warning sound that we all know so well.  But never had I ever heard it seem so loud before, nor had it ever had such adverse consequences.

Immediately, the hare started, stood up, realized it was in peril and ran into the thick of the willows, spruce and alder that lay just feet beyond the road.  Disappointed, the lynx got up, crept toward the edge of the willows where the hare had disappeared, and then lept into the thick of it, hoping to still have some success with his hunt.  One minute we were all waiting with the lynx for the expectation of the hunt, elated to be in the position to watch such a dramatic natural event, and then, because of the complete cluelessness of another photographer who had captured the images he wanted, it was over.

As much as we lamented the loss of the kill, it was hard to be disappointed for the opportunity to watch and photograph the lynx in action.  And it likely would not have happened had we got out of bed on time.

Weekend in Denali

Saturday, May 5th, 2012
Weekend in Denali

Aside from the wonderful opportunity to watch and photograph a lynx while it hunted a snowshoe hare, my spring weekend in Denali National Park & Preserve with fellow photographers Chris Beck, Matt Brown and Brian Weeks presented a wonderful variety of photo opportunities.  It is almost impossible to spend just a couple of days in the park and not come away with something. 

During the regular season, park visitors are only allowed to drive their vehicles into the park to the Savage River, at mile 15 of the park road.  But, on the shoulder seasons, the road is open all the way to the Teklanika River rest stop, at mile 29.  This presents a great opportunity to capture nature as it is waking up from winter.  Even during the transition from winter to summer, and with light that was less than ideal, we had plenty of encounters with caribou, hares, porcupine and Willow ptarmigan and several unique glimpses of the land that only occur during a period of a few weeks.  And even though the full “super moon” stayed behind the clouds, it still created a golden rim of light around those clouds to give us pixel food for thought. 

It was also the first time I took my new Nikon D800E out into the field.  I was very pleased with the results, particularly in high dynamic range scenes.  It was also the first time I had the opportunity to use my new Nikon 14-24 f/2.8 AFS lens, which came in handy on several wide open landscape scenes.