While visiting Comox Valley for the BC Shellfish and Seafood Festival, I had a chance to learn about seafood in this beautiful area of the world. One of the tours I took on this hosted trip was a tour of Fisherman’s Wharf that is run by the Comox Valley Harbour Authority. I was ready to board a boat and head out for the day. Can you picture me as a fisherwoman? I could, but I learned the fishermen and women may love their jobs, but they work really, really hard.
Ron Clark, the Wharfinger for the Comox Harbor Marina, also known as the Fisherman’s Wharf, took a group of travel writers on a tour of this harbor that has been sheltering ships since the late 1800’s.”There are 117 licensed vessels with 266 with commercial licenses,” Clark shared.
The gamut of seafood raised and caught in the Comox valley is astounding. During season, fresh halibut, prawns, shrimp, cod, salmon and tuna can all be found at the dock.
The history of the harbor goes back even further than when the wharf was established. The island has been home to K’omoks First Nations for thousands of years. A brochure on the wharf states, “The name Comox is derived from the Kwakwala word “Komuckway”, which translates to “plenty”. For this reason, the Comox Valley is known as the “Land of Plenty”, after its rich land and surroundings first observed by the K’omoks First Nations.”
These fertile waters are where the Fisherman’s Wharf boats and crews head out in a variety of crafts to ply their trade. We saw a 44′ boat with a trolling license for salmon and shrimp. This boat we viewed was a one man operation. On down the row we viewed a halibut boat that used rows of hooks on a line to catch the tasty fish. Out in the ocean though Ron said the Killer whales also admire halibut as well. “The Killer whales love halibuts and sometimes the fisherman will find bites out of the fish. The lines are weighted on the bottom of the ocean and the halibuts they catch are 14-15 pounds.”
Ron explained that fishing for tuna requires heading closer to the warmer US waters. Some fisherman have invested in a machine that charts the ocean temperature. “They want to see where the warm ribbons of water are.”
Ron explained that this machine can make the difference between catching tuna or not. Tuna is abundant enough at this point and time that their is no quota on what is caught, which was unlike the very regulated Halibut industry.
For salmon Ron said the crew load up with ice and they will be out four to five days. There were different types of salmon fished at different times like Chinook, Coho, Sock Eye and Cham. “It takes two people and they anchor every night,” Ron added.
It was interesting to me that most of the boats were aluminum and fiber glass because Ron said they are easier to maintain. Besides the boats that go out to catch the fish, there are also boats that go and collect the catch from the smaller boats, that will then just continue to fish. “They load up, then take their load to the local frozen sea plant. The boats have different jobs.,” Ron added.
Another beautiful wooden boat while it was used to pack salmon and herring, they also picked up sea urchins and sea cucumbers from divers. Daniel McPhee, who worked for the Dept. of Fisheries explained to me that the sea cucumber is part of the star fish family and added that when grown on a farm, it is a product of what he called, sea ranching!
I also learned that troll caught fish are considered a higher quality than gill net fish because there is less damage to the fish in the process. Chef Michael Reidt was on our tour and he said that the most important thing after the catch is how the fisherman freeze the fish.
Like farming on the land, one of the worries for the fishing industry is the age of skippers. “There are not many under 50, because of the cost.”
Before wrapping up the tour, I stopped and had a chance to speak with one young man that is part of a fishing family. His name was Steve Veloso of the boat, Island Pursuit. Besides taking tourists out for charted fishing trips, he also fishes for salmon, Ling Cod, halibut, snapper and Dungeness crab. His father opened a fish market and began with shrimp. “I spent my first day on a boat when I was three days old. At ten, I got my first boat.”
And his career grew from there, so again, this reminded me of many farm families where the kids literally grow up in the combine and riding in the grain trucks. The wharf tour was a wonderful way to learn about what I always considered a romantic type of profession. I think it is like farming, more a way of life, than a career, that many romanticize, but is really a love of what you do combined with a lot of back breaking work and a tenacity to hold on against all odds.
If you get a chance to walk the wharf do it. For more information about this fascinating place, call 250-339-6041, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.