From the Editor's Desk
Building a better seafood system wasn’t easy in the second full year of the pandemic. In our very first “year in review,” we take stock of all the hiccups and victories that made 2021 unique. First, lets take a look at the numbers.
Did you know corn prices impact the availability of dry ice? I didn’t, but our warehouse team is acutely aware of the intricacies of our dry ice supply chain. The combination of higher demand — to preserve everything from your fish to the nation’s vaccine supply — and decreased supply created uncertainty in our dry ice sourcing. For some of you, this translated into delayed shipments as we waited for the supply chain knot to untangle. We are applying this lesson to our 2022 plans, but we were reminded that everything is connected to everything else.
From Minneapolis to Chicago, our home delivery drivers fulfilled more orders this year than ever before. I sat down with a couple of our drivers and our manager of home delivery, Derek Cooley. They shared stories about the treats members leave for them and the wonderful pets on their routes. They are so thankful for your kindness and support and I am excited to share their story with the community in the coming months.
Despite our best efforts, shipments sometimes arrive thawed or don’t live up to our rigorous quality standards. That’s where our Salmon Support Team comes in to make things right. The team resolved 108,000 tickets this year, representing everything from gratitude, confusion, and disappointment.
If you called, emailed, or messaged our team, you might have talked with Donavon Hilligoss, our Community Supported Fishery director. In addition to solving any and every problem that arises for members, he has been focused on training his team of 11 salmon support members to fulfill our 100% satisfaction guarantee. We decided early on that we would operate our own member support team at a time when so many companies are outsourcing customer service. Thanks to your feedback we are able to learn from our mistakes and ensure we always honor our 100% satisfaction guarantee.
Our projected harvests are the product of hours of planning, but sometimes the seas don’t cooperate. Our fleet and procurement team juggled multiple challenges this year, from bad luck to bad weather. The open to the king salmon season for our troll fleet lasted just over a week and, despite our fishermen’s best efforts, fewer than expected king salmon found their way onto our hooks. The coho season wasn’t much better, so some of our fishermen made the decision to invest the limited time they had available to pursue species in abundance. This year that meant keta salmon.
While keta doesn’t offer the same culinary experience as coho or king salmon, the market we created for the species this summer set a benchmark for fishing communities throughout southeast Alaska. That is something your membership this year made possible: a safety net for not just members of our fleet, but small-boat fishermen facing similar conditions.
Lauren Mitchell, our fleet manager in Sitka, reports that strong member support this year allowed us to buy from more fishermen than ever before. By paying our fishermen above dock price, that means more dollars stay in the fishing communities that steward these incredible fish.
As I wrote in August, I believe the best way to protect wild fish is to eat them. Supporting sustainable, wild seafood gives it value, which provides a powerful incentive to protect wild habitat. Case in point: this year the value of troll-caught king salmon surpassed the value of a barrel of oil.
Sitka Salmon Shares is demonstrating that you can create economic opportunities through environmental stewardship. Our factories are the forests and streams of Alaska. No amount of human technology can replace them. Creating a market for wild fish sends a clear signal that environmental integrity has enduring economic value. Once you burn petroleum, it is gone forever. Protecting salmon habitat and defending fish populations through science-based management will ensure they return to spawn (and find our hooks or gill nets) year after year.
Wild seafood and fishing communities throughout Alaska received victories this year when the EPA announced it would seek Clean Water Act protections for Bristol Bay, the largest wild sockeye salmon run on the planet, effectively ending a proposed mineral project known as Pebble Mine.
The largest temperate rainforest in the US, the Tongass National Forest, also received renewed protections from resource extraction this year as well. Its 16.7 million acres are critical to our mission because, as Tongass community organizer Heather Bauscher says, “If we don’t protect the habitat, we’re not going to have the fish.” The Tongass is so important to us that this year we supported a documentary, Understory, through our 1% For the Wild program to educate the public on the scientific, cultural, and economic value of an intact rainforest ecosystem. Through our 1% For the Wild program and other initiatives, your support made it possible for us to fund 46 different causes and organizations working to protect the wild habitat and communities that make your monthly box of fish possible.
In late Spring we decided to reduce the size of our member newsletter, The Catch, in response to the ever-rising price of paper and its environmental impact. We decided that those resources would better serve members by publishing the newsletter year-round and amplify our digital storytelling efforts.
This year we published 60 blog posts, more than doubling last year’s amount. We also began a new blog series, Captain’s Log, written by our fishermen. I will be sharing stories online from throughout our supply chain in the coming year in ways that would be impossible in a print format.
It has been a wild year, but your support has sustained us and the fishing communities that catch and process the best seafood on the planet. Thank you and happy new year!
Know Your Author
Dr. Jonathan Wlasiuk is the director of research and writing at Sitka Salmon Shares. He has taught at universities throughout the Great Lakes and writes about the social and ecological impact of business decisions.