The Reefnetters of Lummi Island – Human/Nature

© Cameron Karsten Photography for The Nature Conservancy’s photographing reef netting with Riley Starks of Lummi Island Wild on Lummi Island, WA

To get to the island you take a tiny ferry. Max vehicle load around 15, maybe less. If I lived on the island, I’d have a canoe and do the short crossing for free. Once you’re on the island there is one main road that circumnavigates the land. Homes are rustic, beautiful. Driveways are quaint, simple, forested with evergreens. Everything is shrunken to the simplicity of truly small island living.

I was there to photograph the Lummi Island Reefnetters, a community of commercial fisherman/women taking part in an historical practice of harvesting wild salmon runs. Known as the oldest salmon net fishery in the world, it was begun by the First Peoples of the Pacific Northwest, where the angler watched the ebb and flow of the tides as the salmon came and went on their route to spawn, and used a net or trap once the fish were lured onto a “reef”. I honestly had never heard of it, albeit being a salmon-obsessed angler since I was 10 years old, I was immediately intrigued. I think of salmon and I think of a beautifully sculpted fish, muscular and angular for the perfect oceanic journey. From the rivers at birth to an epic multiyear voyage through ocean currents, and then back once and forever to the very freshwaters they were birthed in to create life again.

© Cameron Karsten Photography for The Nature Conservancy’s photographing reef netting with Riley Starks of Lummi Island Wild on Lummi Island, WA

I was told to ask for Riley Starks, a partner of Lummi Island Wild which sells reefnet-caught salmon and other seafood from the Salish Sea. He also owns and operates Nettle Farms, a small B&B established in 1992. The land was rugged as I pulled up, green and wild, but suitable to raise 50 different birds from chickens to turkeys. There were knotted fruit trees strewn about the earth and a solitude of a farm tucked into the forest. Riley himself cleared the land, and as we shook hands I could feel his calloused hands, thick with years of work on land and water. His beard was grayish-black and his stature short, he quickly threw a pair of rubber boots in his truck and told be to follow him down to the reefnets.

In about 5 minutes we were at his office, a beautiful bay facing south towards the San Juan Islands of Orcas and Cypress. We loaded up into a skiff and shot out to one of the anchored barges. It was a flood tide in a couple hours, simply meaning an incoming tide that brings in schools of salmon to the tidal bay. From there, they swim over an artificial reef suspended between two platforms. A spotter is stationed above the gear, watching and waiting until the school enters the reef, and then instructs to crew to draw up the nets. The salmon are enclosed, quickly hauled into small holding tanks, wherein the their gills are ripped out for a quick death. Any bycatch is released back into the water.

© Cameron Karsten Photography for The Nature Conservancy’s photographing reef netting with Riley Starks of Lummi Island Wild on Lummi Island, WA

I watched in amazement at the efficiency of the operation, as schools of salmon followed the tides and entered the reefnets, drawn in by glittering strands of line that gave an appearance of a reef emerging from the depths. All net gear was battery powered, charged via solar panels, making the whole operation completely sustainable. The skiff was the only gas-powered engine, which ferried the crew back to shore and the afternoon’s catch to an awaiting tender.

Within a few hours, the tides shifted and the crew cleaned the operations gear. We rode back to shore. I was fortunate enough to have brought my cooler wherein Riley placed two 8lb pink salmon on ice.

Shot on assignment for The Nature Conservancy for the book Human/Nature.

SealLine Dry Bags and the Unknown Waters of Winter

SealLine, a kayak, an outdoorsman, and a calm foggy winter morning. + 2hrs before work…

New website via PhotoFolio up at

New Print: La Push It – 2007 (Limited 10 editions)

21H x 31W giclee print on Moab 300gsm Entrada Rag. Limited 10 Editions prepared with cream matt on silver aluminum frame behind museum glass. Total dimensions approximately 30H x 39W (10 editions remaining).

21H x 31W giclee print on Moab 300gsm Entrada Rag. Limited 10 Editions prepared with cream matt on silver aluminum frame behind museum glass. Total dimensions approximately 30H x 39W (9 editions remaining).

New print from the archives. A shot from La Push, WA in 2007. Due to winter storms, this beach changes dramatically each season, from new logs and old growth tree stumps so shifting rock banks and fresh water pools.

Matted and framed behind a silver brushed aluminum frame and museum glass for $1,050.00

Photography: Color and Digital on Aluminium, Glass and Paper.

Size: 21 H x 31 W x 0.1 in

Keywords: beach, photography, fine art, washington state, color, Pacfic Northwest, landscape

Puget Sound Restoration Fund: The Oyster Harvest


Oysters are delicious, but they’re also highly important to our marine ecosystem. They’re natural filtration systems, removing toxins and cycling nutrients back into the water that help combat pollution. Oysters within the Puget Sound are also some of the first species to feel the effects of a new threat called Ocean Acidification (OA). As the ocean becomes more acidic due to decreasing pH levels from human industrialization, oyster seed shells begin to dissolve causing holes, disease and early death.

Puget Sound Restoration Fund (PSRF) is helping restore these mollusks by planting native oyster beds throughout Puget Sound. They’re creating a community of oyster harvesters through their CSA program, as well as partnering with research institutes to further study and treat the effects of OA. On an early morning on Bainbridge Island, Washington local volunteers gather to take advantage of the low tide and collect the native oysters.



















For more visit the Ocean Acidification Project

Cameron Karsten Photography

Coast Mountain Culture Magazine (Winter 2013/2014) – Board Artisan

KellyFooteSpreadKelly Foote is a good friend and amazing surfboard shaper. We have a few more projects in mind that we’re currently developing, so stay tuned. However, here’s a lil’ tid bit written up on Kelly’s unique shaping talent and killer lifestyle on the Olympic Peninsula in Coast Mountain Culture’s newest issue, along with a great shot of mine that fits the spread nicely. Well done Mr. Foote and thanks CMC!


Washington State’s Alpine Lakes Wilderness (Cascade Mountains)


A short week of city work and then we were out.  It was 6pm and we were stocking up, eating, forgetting things, stocking up again, getting licenses, and then heading east up and over Interstate 90.  Seattle – Snoqualimie Pass – Roslyn – Salmon La Sac.  It was dark by the time we reached the trailhead, about 11PM, and we were beat from the seemingly endless dirt road that only became visible through the truck’s headlights.  Everything else was black as the sky above.  We took swigs of whiskey, unrolled our pads and bags, and slept like babies under the canvas’ cover.

From Deception Pass trailhead, we enjoyed the wide path to Hyass Lake, before a slowly inclining climb got us sweating.  Simon and I were conditioned.  It had been too long since we were on the trail, so our mind’s excitement took up the body’s slack.  In less then three hours we reached the pass, an uneventful merging with the Pacific Crest Trail.

We had no plans except a start date and the last day we needed to be back down heading home.  We pulled out the topo maps and traced lines with our fingers.





Our pace didn’t slow, it quickened with ease.  We couldn’t contain the thrill of being out, winding north from Snoqualimie Pass in Washington State’s Cascade Mountains to Steven’s Pass.  The area we were exploring was the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, a land nestled between I-90 and Hwy 2 with enough lakes to last you 10 lifetimes.  And at high altitudes, many cresting above the timber line, they were quiet, and well stocked.  Fly-rods: check.






In less then 5.5 hrs from the trailhead, up to Deception Pass and north along the PCT we reached our first night’s destination: Deception Lakes.  And they were exquisite.  Two glistening bodies of water with long shallow shores that dropped into deep emerald hues.  The fish were going crazy.  Set up camp, pull shoes, rig the rods and throw some line.  But there was one problem.  These rainbow, brook and cutthroat trout were tiny, skipping across the water as they emerged for a vast array of insect life the size of gnats buzzing around your wine.  We had nothing, they had everything.  Hooking one small brook did not afford us the glamorous backpacking dinner we hoped, but the excitement to be here and how far exceeded expectations.





The next day we rose and kept camp at Deception.  With light packs, food, water and fly gear, we headed up to Mt. Surprise for a summit before dropping down further north to Glacier and Surprise Lakes.  More fish, more action, but the same small size.  But what made the day was the Saturday morning spent atop Mt. Surprise.  With a thick rolling cloud cover the temperature of a warm bath and nobody within eyesight or earshot, Simon and I sat, played a deck or two and sipped our libations.  Nowhere else was more accommodating before dropping down through Piper Pass onto Glacier and Surprise Lakes.






To return to camp that evening, we continued along a loop, rejoining the PCT south to Deception Lakes, trying to never walk the same path twice.

With sunrise, oats, and full water jugs, we packed camp and headed west down to Deception Creek, a small tight valley that originated at the base of Mt Daniels.  Simon and I hiked south toward Deception Pass, taking a new less-traveled trail that brought us through a rich land of moss and wild mountain blueberries.  The trail was minimal and our eyes were awake for lingering bears.






By noon we were back at Deception Pass, before turning west along Marmot Trail to Marmot Lake.  And beyond that, a Shangri La called Jade.  It was a long afternoon hike as we took side routes for smaller excursions to ampitheatres of rock and screen.  The views were vast, as if we could reach out to the trails we were on just days prior.  Shortly before the late afternoon, the thick blue waters of Marmot met us, but it was the Jade that took our breath away.





Jade Lake was an additional mile above Marmot, a steep perilous hike under darkness, but just manageable with light packs and three days of hiking under our feet and within our knees.  Jade Lake with it’s hushing sounds of wind screaming through the pass just south, was all to ourselves and the large trolling trout that could be seen beneath the surface, careless about our imitation flies.




One more night, one more morning before the trail descended beneath our boots back to Salmon La Sac (after a morning fish of course).  Beers and billiards at The Brick in Roslyn washed down the 4 day/3 night dream to mere memories.  Next summer will be just as beautiful.



Photo of the Day: Memory in the Myst

Location: Hobuck Beach, WA

Camera/Lens Specifics: Canon 5D Mark III with Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM Telephoto Zoom Lens

105mm, 1/250 sec at ƒ/20, ISO 160, tripod.