Join the Museum Advocates for coffee at 11:30am followed by a program at noon in the Rotunda Room of Old City Hall. Learn how the Salish People were using an advanced technique to catch sockeye salmon hundreds of years ago from local fishers Riley Starks and Mark Shintaffer. This technique is considered to be one of the most environmentally sensitive of all the methods of catching fish. The indigenous peoples we know as the Lummi, the Samish, the Semiahmoo, the Sooke, the Songish, and the Saanich, were distinguished by their invention and use of what is known today as the reef net to catch the elusive sockeye salmon. Modern materials and hydraulics have improved efficiency but the basic methods remain the same. Reef nets count on natural and manmade structures to lead the salmon into a shallow laid net which is then lifted and the fish spilled into holding pens. Minimal handling and stress coupled with the ability to keep the fish alive make reef nets the most selective fishing gear available. Reef nets are fixed to one location and only catch migrating adult salmon that swim through their gear. Today reef nets are used in northern Puget Sound to fish sockeye and pink salmon in the summer and Coho and Chum salmon in the fall.
Riley Starks graduated from Western Washington University in 1972, and bought his first fishing boat the following spring, with virtually no experience in fishing or in running a boat. He never looked back though, and has been a commercial fisherman for 45 years. When he moved to Lummi Island in 1992, he bought reef net gear and helped start Lummi Island Wild. He also created Nettles Farm and the modern iteration of The Willows Inn. While taking an active role in the farm-to-table movement, he worked to weave the sustainable fishery into The Willows Inn and was a delegate to the first Slow Food Terra Madre in Italy in 2004. He now works in marketing for Lummi Island Wild Co-op and promoting sustainable fishing methods through his non-profit Salish Center for Sustainable Fishing Methods.
Mark Shintaffer is the co-author of a new book on reef net fishing with Jack Petree titled Reef Nets in the Salish Sea: Dugout Canoe to Environmental Entrepreneurialism. He is also the author of The Shintaffer Road, a book about family and business in Whatcom County over last century.