In the doldrums of winter, my friends and I reminisce about the yearly pink salmon runs on the island—bluebird skies, warm and pleasant weather (except last year’s heat dome), and an ice-cold beer at the end of a great day of fishing.
The ocean offers a cool refuge to the heated angler, with the rocky shore often hazed with heat mirages. But with all this heat, what do you do with your catch? Leaving fish on the rocks is a precarious proposition. The tide is in constant motion, which means the fish can be swept away, exposed to the hot sun, or presented as an easy meal to some other creature (that happened to me after I left a pink inside of a log). The cooler is the obvious choice, but more often than not, the day’s incessant heat turns the ice to a lukewarm mixture of water and blood. Throughout the day, the one with the most fish in my group usually heads to a gas station to re-up on ice, and then we do it again when we head back to the campsite.
The solution? Salt ice, which can keep your catch ice cold (literally) during anything from a multi-day tuna slam in August, to a weekend summer camping trip to Strathcona Provincial Park.
What Is Salt Ice?
For the uninitiated, salt ice is simply a salty brine solution combined with filtered water, which is frozen and then shaved into slices. To make a slurry for your cooler, just add enough seawater so the ice doesn’t float and still touches the bottom of the cooler. Although salt is generally used to melt ice off roads, the functionality of salt ice lies in its ability to lower the overall temperature of the slurry. As salt dissolves in water, the chemical reaction requires heat, so the addition of salt ice actually uses surrounding heat in an endothermic reaction that creates a sub-zero temperature ranging anywhere from 0 ̊ to -21 ̊, depending on the concentration of saltwater and the quality of the container.
How Does Salt Ice Compare?
Salt ice on the Island may cost around $5 for 10 lbs, which is just a little more expensive than what you will pay for regular ice at the gas station. Dry ice is around $20 to $30 for 10 lbs. It’s a bit more accessible than salt ice, and it can work in your cooler quite well, but you need ventilation and run the risk of freezer burn on the food or fish. Flaked ice or shaved ice offers more surface area than traditional cubes, which means it cools items more efficiently.
In controlled room-temperature environments, a salt ice slurry can last up to 72 hours, but all the estimates listed will vary with heat exposure and the quality of your cooler. Sean Nakatsu from French Creek Seafood says it is common for them to produce 50 tonnes every 24 hours and have 5 tonnes always on hand. Typically, you do not need to place orders in advance.
It is also worth noting that some of these facilities may only be open on weekdays, and some only operate in summer. If you’re going somewhere and you’re unsure of where to buy salt ice, your best bet is to call local guides and seafood businesses to see if they can help.
Where to Find Salt Ice on Vancouver Island
While the list of locations continues to grow, here are some popular suggestions:
3140 Harbour Road (250) 661-9528
4985 Johnston Road (250) 723-1172
3300 Harbour Road (250) 730-3835 Rd #990
262 Southside Drive (250) 753-4135
1097 Lee Road (250) 248-2888
1380 Alberni Hwy (250) 248-6953
2066 Peninsula Road (250) 726-6647
1580 Peninsula Rd
2076 Peninsula Rd
1341 Eber Road (250) 726-7761
612 Campbell Street (250) 725-3731
Campbell River Seafoods
1900 Island Hwy (250) 287-4121
6275 Hardy Bay Rd (250) 949-8282
9300 Trustee Road (250) 949-8781
Stay cool, fellow anglers!