Inside the Warehouse: The Salmon Drama of July

By Dara Chapman

Inside the Warehouse: The Salmon Drama of July

The legwork involved in packing your seafood boxes

Inside the Warehouse: The Salmon Drama of July | Sitka Salmon Shares

The beginning of July is one of the most nerve-wracking parts of the year for those of us responsible for getting fish from Sitka into the seafood boxes that are dropped off at your doorsteps. There are a few smaller salmon fishing opportunities in the spring and winter, but summer is the major salmon fishing season in Alaska, and it picks up in the month of July. Spring fishing is all about sablefish, Pacific cod, and halibut in Alaska, so the spring and early summer boxes are packed with white fish, white fish, white fish! Trust me, we love white fish! But we also know that our members are craving salmon by the time the Southeast summer salmon troll fishery opens on July 1st. We always prioritize making sure that the August Shares are packed with salmon, but we have a narrow window to make that happen.

The summer salmon season in Sitka starts out with a bang, with king salmon up first. The first summer king salmon “opener,” as it is called, is one of two opportunities our fishermen have to harvest king salmon for the season. The king opener generally lasts a few days to a week, and everyone goes out all at once to catch as much king salmon as they can before the fishery managers close the fishery to conserve the wild population before the second (and last) summer king window in August. King populations are limited, so king is only a portion of the salmon harvest for the August boxes. The kicker here; however, is that only once the king salmon opener is closed do many of the Sitka fishermen head back out to start fishing for other salmon species in earnest.

A barge at the Sitka Shipping Yard.

We always prioritize making sure that the August Shares are packed with salmon, but we only have a two week fishing window in Sitka to make that happen. It takes two weeks for fish to take the barge trip — the most carbon-friendly form of transport — from Alaska down to our main distribution facility in Galesburg, IL. And salmon fishing doesn’t start until July 1st. I am sure you can now see where the nerves come in. If we want to have any chance at getting salmon into the August boxes, it has to get on that barge by the middle of July at the latest, and we need not just king, but the other salmon species that are fished after the king opener ends.

It’s a gamble, for sure. Fish are not widgets you can just order when the stock gets low. The king salmon opener can officially start on July 1st, but there’s no guarantee that the fishermen will catch the volume you think they will, or in the ideal time frame you need it done. And that’s what happened this year. The king opener started slowwwww. The fleet was iced up and out on the fishing grounds, but the kings just weren’t biting.

The F/V Kathleen trolling for king salmon this summer.

We had daily meetings to strategize. Where were the fish? We heard they were up north, when our fleet was down south. A few days in, we were far from where we needed to be in order to be able to put salmon, let alone king salmon, in the August boxes. On top of king fishing being slow, the longer the king fishery dragged on, the less time the fishermen had to fish for other salmon species before our middle of the month deadline. It was a rough time, for sure. We started talking about alternatives: the Pacific cod fishery was still going well, so we could add Pacific cod to the premium boxes in August. But that’s not what we wanted to do. After four months of white fish in the shares, we wanted to hit it out of the park with salmon-heavy August boxes.

Then things started to turn around slowly. The fleet moved up north where we heard there was more success, and the king salmon started rolling through our Sitka plant. The king opener officially closed the evening of July 8th, and with the rush of fish at the end, we had just enough to add king to the August Premium Shares. But king wasn’t the only fish in the sea; we still needed coho and keta, and the fleet needed a short breather before going out again. It had been seven long days of fishing!

Fisherman Jeff Farvour hauls in a king salmon this summer.

So we waited with baited breath, each day counting the pounds of coho and keta the fleet was catching that would make it onto the barge to be delivered for the first week of August deliveries. Fishing picked up, but not quite enough to fill out the inventory. We looked at the schedule of deliveries in August and realized — wait a minute! — that we had a buffer week! The last week of August that bleeds into early September is an off-shipping week that could be utilized. We looked at our options: we could do a mixed box in the Premium Share with some white fish along with the salmon we already caught, or we could push deliveries back a week in order to provide our Premium members with that first all-salmon box of the year. Our desire to start salmon season with a bang won out, and we pushed back deliveries one week.

After the salmon fishing and processing was completed, it was logistics, logistics, and more logistics to get the fish to your doorstep. The first barges made their way down to Seattle by the end of July, where they were then transported to Galesburg in freezer trucks. In Galesburg, we rushed to pack all of the boxes in time to get them on even more trucks! Our last-leg distribution network includes sending those packed boxes up to our home delivery hubs where our drivers hand-deliver to many of our Midwest members. For members outside of the Midwest, we also send trucks out to the West Coast, down South, and the East Coast each week to reach our members throughout the country via UPS.

Filling August share boxes with salmon at the Galesburg warehouse.

By the first delivery week of August (albeit, one week delayed), all of the boxes were in the right home delivery hubs, or on the right trucks to UPS centers across the country to make it to doorsteps on time. Phew!

A big thanks to our incredible team in Alaska and in the lower 48 that made August (and every month) a success. We hope you all enjoyed hearing a little bit about the behind-the-scenes action, and, of course, your first salmon boxes of the season!

Looking for top-quality seafood caught with sustainability in mind? Look no further than our Premium Seafood Subscription Box, filled with the premium species like halibut, king salmon, albacore tuna, crab, and spot shrimp. We'll do the legwork, you can focus on enjoying the fish!

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