Salmon Harvest: Lummi Island Reef Nets

Reef netting is an ancient selective-fishing method developed by the native peoples of the Salish Sea. It allows us to harvest thriving wild pink salmon—and, in years of peak abundance, wild sockeye—without harming depressed stocks of Chinook and coho salmon. It is, perhaps, the ideal model for commercial fishing in general, and salmon harvest in particular.

a film by Darcy Turenne

Reef nets are suspended between two anchored boats, with lead lines extending down tide and outward. Migrating salmon are fooled by the lead lines into thinking they are traveling over a reef (hence the name) and must ascend toward the surface. As they approach the waiting net, spotters in 20-foot towers identify the species and, if the fish are indeed the target species, prepare to engage the net. When the fish enter the net, solar-powered winches lift the edges, trapping the fish inside.

These salmon are then carefully transferred to a live well, where each individual fish is captured by hand, bled, and placed on ice. On the rare occasion when non-target species are caught along with the target species, they are released unharmed. This unusual level of care, virtually unheard of in other commercial fisheries, allows for the highest quality fish and almost zero bycatch.

The reef-net “gears,” as they are called, are located within a stone’s throw of shore, and are accessed by small skiffs or rowboats. Because they are anchored in place, there is no fuel burned in search of fish. And with onboard solar panels to run the working mechanisms, each set of gears creates its own power.

When you purchase and enjoy our Wild Pink Salmon or Pacific Northwest Wild Sockeye Salmon, you are supporting Lummi Island reef-net fisherman and our work with the Wild Fish Conservancy. Together, our goal is to assist and inspire other fishermen to adopt selective-harvest techniques wherever mixed-stock fisheries take place.