Monday, 13 January 2014

At the bottom of the sea -- part 4

Aerial view of Powell River, Sunshine Coast,
British Columbia
photo: James Blake aka Webgeer
It has been more than fifteen years since I was in Powell River on British Columbia's Sunshine Coast. The area is well named -- I recall that Powell River was the second sunniest place in Canada, contrasting greatly with rainy Vancouver to the south. It is also one of the world's best scuba sites, If you want to see a really big octopus, this is the place to go. It takes two ferries from Vancouver to reach it, although you could fly in on a small plane.

Our business had been very busy at that time and we all needed a break. My assistant, Natasha, suggested Powell River, it was her home town and it had been a while since she had seen her parents. Carrie and I stayed at a hotel in the old town. A couple who were friends of Natasha had bought the abandoned hotel because it cost about the same price as a house. Most of the residents lived further south -- a greater distance from the pulp mill, and the old site was almost a ghost town. My daughter Jasmin and Natasha stayed at her parent's house. Carrie and I would walk down to meet everyone each morning. Staying at the hotel was like travelling back to a different era. Natasha's friends were fixing up the hotel one room at a time. It was pretty "basic" but we liked the place.

There was an outdoor museum of forestry with a trail through the forest and views of the ocean. Old equipment and stumps were preserved there and a sign on an old tree told us that this same tree might have been seen by Captain James Cook as he sailed by in 1778 or 1779 as he emerged from the Inside Passage to the north. Although (technically) a rain forest, it was a lot drier and easier to travel through than an old forest I had once visited at Ucluelet on the west coast of Vancouver Island. The latter had no real forest floor, just huge, moss covered and rotting dead tree trunks piled haphazardly as they had fallen. It also had giant slugs more than four inches long! They got a lot more rain there.

For me, the height of the trip was two experiences on boats: Natasha's parents took us out fishing on their boat. Jasmin and Natasha had decided to stay on land that day -- Jasmin can get sea-sick on a ferry on calm water, but I have never experienced seasickness myself. Natasha's dad was bouncing his boat over the waves at high speed. I think he wanted to see what us "landlubbers" were made of! Natasha's mother didn't like it much, Carrie seemed unaffected, but I was having a great time.

The sonar detected some fish and we started fishing. I was hoping for salmon, but none were about and we caught yellow-eyed rockfish, instead. It is a deep-water species usually called "red snapper" but no relative of the well-known fish of that name. If you fish for this species, don't consider throwing them back -- they die fairly quickly once they leave the depths of the ocean, their swim bladders swollen as you bring them in. Nowadays, there are catch limits because of commercial over-fishing. At one point, I hooked a dogfish, and my displeasure of the fact must have revealed to Natasha's dad that I had some experience. I remember an episode of "Survivor" that was advertised as having an encounter with a shark. When I saw the show it turned out to be only a dogfish! Natasha's dad took out his fishing knife and disemboweled it as I brought it close to the boat. He then retrieved the lure from its mouth and we watched several other dogfish move in for a feast. I asked him if anyone had actually tried to eat one of them, he said that the shark family urinate through their skin -- it didn't sound too appetizing to me either. Two other species had also showed up hoping for a free meal: porpoises and harbour seals. The locals usually took a few pebbles with them to throw at them so they would leave and not steal the fish from the hooks. We took a few rockfish, about enough for a family meal, and I helped Natasha's dad moor the boat back at the dock.

The other trip was in a much smaller boat, Friends of Natasha's family invited us to enjoy some fresh prawns at a campsite by the water, and I went out with Natasha's dad and his friend in a tiny aluminum outboard to get the prawns. Natasha's dad grew up in the area and the sea was in his blood. He told me that you used to see  killer whales in large pods in the area, but their numbers had diminished over the years. I noticed that the lifejackets were sitting in the boat and wondered if there was a law that said you had to have them on board but did specify that they had to be worn. Wherever I go, I like to experience the place like the natives so I offered to pull up the prawn traps. Natasha's dad was concerned about my back problems but I told him that I would stop if it became too difficult. I was fine , though and got them all into the boat. I was standing up in the small boat  and it was lying a bit low in the water. The sea around there was 400 feet deep so there was quite a lot of rope to haul up.

It was not until I got back to Calgary that I realized the potential danger of standing up in a tiny boat 400 feet above the bottom of the sea without a lifejacket when you cannot swim. Also, I don't like heights much -- you will never get me within ten feet of the edge of a cliff. Yet there I was, wobbling about pulling up prawn traps from a sea bottom 400 feet below me without giving it a second thought.

There's the problem with damage to the ocean floor -- we mostly do not experience it first hand. Out of sight, out of mind, as the saying goes. I have seen glaciers shrink and the climate change. I have been to places nearby where the evenings are now silent, but where I remember the songs of large numbers of northern leopard frogs filling the air. Eventually, that damage will make itself known to many of us landlubbers -- but then it might be too late to do anything about it. More about that later... .

1 comment:

  1. I've just learned that the commonest British Columbia dogfish is being in sold in great quantities to Europe. In British fish and chip shops they are called "rock salmon" (you might want to order the cod or haddock!) In BC, you can actually get real salmon and chips, and it not that expensive, either. Mind you, it probably won't be sockeye or red spring, but you never know.

    I rather like halibut and chips, but its double the price of cod here.

    Anyway, read all about it here:

    Bon appétit!