By , September 26, 2010

Bycatch, a term that applies to commercial fishers catching fish other than the species they were targeting, applies to my efforts on the homestead as well. I’ve had a few unintended catches that, while falling short of providing food, have at least contributed to our education.

One day while fishing off the rocks, I cast out over the edge of the shelf and allowed my lure to sink down into the deeper water before reeling in. I hoped to either tempt a salmon hunting the darker depths, or possibly attract a halibut. Instead, I caught a fish I’d never seen before. I took a photo and released it. I checked my reference books, but found no answers. A few days later I went to the library, and found photos that lead me to believe the fish is a ronquil.


As far as I can identify it, this is a ronquil, about 6 inches long (Photo: Mark Zeiger).

I learned much later that ronquil are decent eating, but this one was too small to worry about, even if I had known it was edible.

One day while fishing for halibut, I hooked something that didn’t fight, but put a fair amount of weight on the line. Halibut and ling cod sometimes don’t fight until you pull them close enough to the surface for them to sense danger, so I resolutely reeled in hundreds of feet of line. On my hook I found a long, flesh-colored tube with a little bit of mud on it. I have hooked sea cucumbers off the bottom many times before, and at first I thought this was another one that had turned itself inside out (an escape technique). I threw it in the bottom of the boat and returned to fishing.

By the time I got it home I realized my sea cucumber theory didn’t work. The body of this thing was rigid, almost like a stalk. Again, I took some photos, and went to the books. Eventually I learned that it is a sea pen, a colony of organisms closely related to coral. One of the organisms forms the stalk, and the rest of the colony become fronds on the stalk.

sea pen

A sea pen, with its fronds retracted, over 6 feet long (Photo: Mark Zeiger).

When we move goods to and from the property by boat, I like to drag a lure behind the canoe, on the off chance I might catch dinner. One evening we’d brought a load around the peninsula to the property, and I paddled back around to deliver the canoe to its usual spot on the bay. I fished, but it got too deep and snagged the bottom. I worked to free the lure, and it came loose, but not free. When I reeled it in, I found a beautiful basket star! Not much to do but take a quick photo and send it back down.

basket star

A basket star, about 12 inches across (Photo: Mark Zeiger).

I’d rather catch dinner, but at least on those occasions when I catch something unexpected, it’s never dull.

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