Great taste experiences on a Northwest isle

Tiny Lummi Island focuses on eating well

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  • Northwest isle keeps things local

    Local landmark: a boathouse on Legoe Bay.

A feast to feel good about

Lummi Island was first a seasonal home to the Lummi Nation Native Americans, who now live year-round on a reservation across Hale Passage. Relations between more recent arrivals and the Lummi Nation have long been politically charged, which is why the success of last year's first-ever Lummi Island Reefnet Festival is all the more remarkable.

"Reef-net fishing is one of these ancient practices that's dwindling, and if we don't keep it alive, it'll disappear," Starks says. The technique involves a net spread between two stationary bargelike boats, like a high-wire circus act on water. "Give 'em hell," a watchtower man yells each time he spots a school of salmon, and suddenly a slithering mass of silver fins and tails flashes in midair before dropping into a holding well.

It's far from efficient, but it's the most eco-friendly way to fish ― all bycatch is released by hand ― and it yields far superior-tasting fish, devoid of the lactic acid released during commercial-fishing struggles. As a result, chefs such as John Sundstrom of Seattle's Lark now have reef-net-caught salmon shipped directly from the waters off Lummi's west coast ― the only place in the world where the ancient art is now practiced.

On the morning of the first reef-net festival, Lummi Nation elders blessed the salmon and the celebration. By midafternoon, nearly the entire Lummi Island population was feasting together on roasted corn and salad from the island's farms, along with the world's best wild salmon.

Starks plans to host the second annual festival this August, and once again it'll be the ultimate expression of all that's good about Lummi Island: unforgettable food that's responsibly harvested, in a place that makes you want to slow down to taste, observe, and savor it all.

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