My trip to Upper Klamath Lake during the
1996 Full Eclipsed Harvest Moon

A narrative by Steven Hoffman

October 1996


Index

Off to the Lake
Brainstorming
I get to work on the barge
Toxic Algae Discussion


It was my good fortune to be invited up to Klamath Falls this summer to be with our parent company, Rossha Enterprises, during the harvest. I learned a great deal about this algae that we are all so interested in. I stayed in Keno, Oregon - just 10 miles from the lake for about 2 months. Surrounding the heads of the organization, Ross and Sharon Trunkey, are numerous family and close friends that serve to handle a multitude of tasks involved in bringing this wonderful food to the market. I have never seen a more devoted and industrious team of workers in one organization in my 30 plus years in the business community.

During the early months of the season, June, July and August, the blooms of algae on the lake were not as abundant as in the past years. The weather conditions had not been favorable, making harvesting the scarce blooms that were there even more difficult. There was talk of a shortage in the Winter of 1996. (Yikes!)

I became concerned, and spoke with Sharon to see if I could do anything to assist in the harvesting of the crop. Perhaps I could come up with some brilliant idea to gather more of the scarce blooms before it was too late. I shared my ideas and quickly realized, I didn't know the first thing about harvesting this algae. Sharon said "You need to come up here to see what is going on, you just don't understand what we are up against".


So I packed my bag, loaded the car with some tools, and set off for Klamath Lake. The next day I went out on the lake and saw the algae in the wild for the very first time. It grows in small, short, thread-like filaments, and hovers in the water just below the surface. When it is thick, it clumps into little balls and clusters. When it is clustering like this it is easier to gather. As our boat moved slowly through the blooms, the delicate algae dispersed and seemed to disappear. I reached down into the water to try to gather some in my hand, and it all slipped through my fingers and fell back into the lake! I thought to myself "This is not just your ordinary pond scum."

We approached the barge where the harvesting was being done. There were several people at various work stations, each performing an essential task to get this algae out of the water and back to the shore. All the equipment was functioning properly, but the density of the algae blooms just wasn't there. Sure, we were harvesting algae... but would it be enough for the growing demand in the marketplace?

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Later that night, we all sat around the kitchen table coming up with scads of ideas to improve the process. One idea after another emerged into the limelight to be bounced back and forth, refinement after refinement. Would it work? Could it work? Only if such and such was true, and the conditions were so and so.

You see, harvesting this algae is a relatively new enterprise. Various efforts have met with some degree of success, and some have not been so feasible. The research continues, and testing new innovations are just another part of the job. It's not an easy problem; the conditions on the lake are changeable. A particular strategy might work well if the algae is thin, but the same strategy may not work well at all if the algae is thick. And the algae does vary from year to year, week to week, day to day, and sometimes hour to hour.

Today, our harvesters are doing a great job! They represented years of research and refinements that currently reflect the "state of the art" in harvesting this product in the wild. Of all the companies that harvest this algae from the lake, no one treats the algae more gently in extracting it from the water. And no one else air-dries their product. Air drying is the gentlest way of dehydrating the algae.

Excuse me, I digress. My story is about algae at the Harvest Moon. One day near the end of September, the algae started to come in thick; there were great blooms everywhere! Coincidentally, it was only a couple of days before the Full Eclipsed Harvest Moon of 1996.

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For some reason, a couple of workers didn't show up and they were short handed on the barges. I was asked to go out and lend a hand. So off I went! After a quick stop at the deli for a takeout sandwich and drink, I was in the small shuttle, headed for the harvesters. The trip would take about 35 minutes motoring out to the barge. I felt wonderful! There I was in the middle of Klamath Lake, heading north past Buck Island, algae everywhere. It was a warm day; the air was clean and fresh; the sun was shining and all was well. Tears came to my eyes as I silently expressed my gratitude for such an experience.

During the next few hours, I never worked harder. I was totally amazed at the rate we were harvesting the algae. The equipment was performing so well it could gather the algae faster than the five of us could get it into buckets and off to shore. At dusk, we were done. We don't harvest after dark because we have to see the algae in the lake that we are gathering. This policy maintains the high quality of our algae.

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I think something needs to be said about some rumors of toxic algae on Klamath Lake. The microcystis algae appeared on the lake this fall in early September. Some people think this was due to of a period unusually warm weather, perhaps. I was there; I personally observed this algae on the lake; I've spoken with some of the experts on this issue; and here's the real story!

The strain of microcystis that sometimes grows on this lake has come and gone for over 100 years of recorded history. In that time, the animals and livestock have been freely drinking the water from this lake, and there is not one case of a sickness or death that has been attributed to this strain of the microcystis algae.

Anyway, the microcystis algae does not cover the lake like a rug. It is found in patches. It is different in size, color & shape. (In this bloom the mic gathered primarily on the surface of the water - not under it like AFA). The wind pushes this algae across the water to the shoreline where it clusters, far away from the harvest areas. It is easy to distinguish from the aphanizomenon flos-aquae, and it is easy to avoid when you know what to look for. While I was on the lake, I observed that there were huge areas of the lake that were virtually un-affected by the microcystis bloom, and one can easily harvest clean algae from these clear areas.

Our company did stop harvesting for a few days during the peak of the microcystis bloom to assess the situation. We gathered samples from the lake and analyzed them under the microscope. As the microcystis blooms began to dissipate, we resumed our harvesting efforts. Our Company has been aware of the microcystis for years. All our algae has been, and is still tested for the presence of microcystis. And all the results from our tests indicate that our product is clean and pure, and of the highest quality.

So my friends, please do not concern yourselves with the rumors that you might have heard, or may hear later, or any of the inflammatory articles that you might read. There is nothing toxic in Rossha's Klamath Lake Algae - and that is not a rumor!

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Well it looks like I've digressed again. Back to the Full Harvest Moon algae...

This algae bloom was only the start of what turned out to be one of the best blooms of the year. For several weeks the harvesting crews worked tirelessly to gather as much of the algae as they could. When I heard that the algae that had been harvested on the Full Moon Eclipse was going to the processors for drying, something in me urged me to ask if I might be able to have that batch for our customers. So we are pleased to have that algae in bulk powder for our customers this year. Be sure to ask for the Harvest Moon Bloom when you order.

Enjoy!



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