Know Your Fishermen: Yakobi Fisheries

By Jonathan Wlasiuk

Know Your Fishermen: Yakobi Fisheries
Pelican, AK. Photo by Joseph from Cabin on the Road.

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Know Your Fishermen: Yakobi Fisheries | Sitka Salmon Shares

The story of Pelican, Alaska has always been connected to Sitka. In the 1930s, salmon trollers from Sitka built a cold storage facility at the present site of Pelican so they could stay out on the fishing grounds longer and keep their catch fresh for market. Located on Lisianski Inlet about 50 miles south of Glacier Bay National Park, Pelican is surrounded by waters teeming with wild salmon and rockfish. Nearly a century later, Yakobi Fisheries continues this tradition.

Owner Seth Stewart named Yakobi Fisheries after the island of the same name. “It is where we fish,” Seth says. “I also thought it was kind of a cool name.” Together with his wife, Anna, Seth founded Yakobi Fisheries in 2010 on the principle that the fishermen of Pelican deserved a local processor with a focus on quality.

Seth Stewart and family.

With a population just shy of 100 souls, Pelican is defined by its relationship to the sea. “It’s really small,” Seth admits. “I was born and raised here, and it’s a fishing village set on the side of a mountain.” Pelican is the epitome of a small-scale commercial fishing community. “There’s no streets and really the only cars are the fire truck, the village garbage truck, and a fuel truck,” Seth says. “It’s just one stretch of boardwalk, all on wooden piles.”

With about 20 full-time employees, Yakobi is also critical to the economic health of Pelican. When I asked Seth about his fishermen, the roll call was more fitting for a family reunion or wedding than a fish processor. “My older sister works with us, my younger sister works with us. My wife and I obviously, my dad does a lot of work with us, and my nephew.” Just when I think he is finished he starts up again. “And then there’s my sister’s partner, he works with us. My older brother works with us in the fall when he’s not fishing.” At a time when so many companies use “family owned” as a marketing slogan, Yakobi Fisheries live it.

The Yakobi crew filleting a fresh catch of rockfish.

Seth started fishing at the age of 10. Although he went away for college thinking it might offer him an alternative, the experience solidified his career choice. “I started Yakobi because I went to college,” Seth says. “I would bring fish from Alaska down and store it in my freezer, enough to feed me over the winter while I was in school.” His friends were suspicious and claimed that salmon was “too fishy.” When he fed them his salmon they said it was the best fish they’d ever had and demanded to know how it was possible. Seth’s response: “It’s because somebody takes care of it.”

Seth learned the science of high-quality fish from his uncle. Seth gets giddy “geeking out” about the process of pressure bleeding. “You’re essentially pushing all of the blood out and replacing it with seawater,” Seth explains. “When you get all the blood out of the fish, it decomposes slower and allows the fish to age—the muscle tissues break down, just like tenderizing meat.” Seth swears by the technique and prefers pressure-bled frozen fish over fresh-caught seafood. “In my opinion, eating a fish the same day or the day after it was caught isn’t the best time to eat it, actually. I relate it to aging beef: a little bit of time makes it better.”

Seth loves the challenge of discovering new techniques to achieve the highest standards of quality. He also fosters a culture of accountability among his fleet. “When we sign up a new person or a new boat we always ask them if they are open to hearing criticism about the way they take care of fish. We look for people who want to improve their process.” Seth begins the process immediately. “I give them criticism after they make their first delivery.” Seth believes a spirit of learning among his fishermen allows them to set a standard of quality and improve every year.

Yakobi's high quality begins with small-boat fishermen from local villages like Pelican.

Seth cares not just because it’s good business, but also because he loves seafood. “King salmon is probably my favorite,” he tells me. “Just throw it on the barbecue with a little salt and pepper on it.” If he wants to get fancy in the kitchen, he tells me, “my go-to is teriyaki sauce.”

Our partnership with Yakobi Fisheries helps Sitka Salmon Shares source salmon and whitefish species for our members from the waters north of Sitka, but also extends beyond sourcing. Seth says the ability to talk to Sitka Salmon Shares co-founder Marsh Skeele and collaborate on common problems is rare in the otherwise cutthroat business of commercial fishing. “I talk to Marsh several times a season about processing and logistics of how we do things.” He adds, “It’s been nice. It’s encouraging that one of the goals of Sitka Salmon Shares is to make sure that people, companies like ours, are still around.”

We are proud to partner with Seth Stewart and the Pelican fishing community and offer you wild seafood processed by a family-owned business dedicated to the highest standards of quality. Stay wild!

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