Salmon Shares brings journalists to Alaska
Rachel Landman is spending this summer in Sitka, Alaska as Salmon Shares’ Storytelling and Sustainability Intern. She will be writing about the company and its fishermen on the blog and in newsletters. Rachel graduated from Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois this June with a creative writing major and double minors in journalism and environmental studies.
Before moving to Alaska, I knew little about the place I would be living. Few people I know have been here and though I had seen pictures and heard a bit about Sitka, I flew up mostly clueless about the details of this place, drawn by the prospect of living and working somewhere new and unfamiliar for the summer.
Alaska’s nickname is “The Last Frontier.” This fact is one of the many I didn’t know before arriving. But immediately, I started to read those three words on the license plate of every car driving down Sitka’s twelve miles of paved road.
In Sitka, the ties between the human world and the frontier — its vast wilderness — are readily apparent. Water rolls past the town in the Sitka Sound. Ice-capped mountains and volcanos sit on the horizon. All day from my bedroom window, I see bald eagles soaring above the treetops. For the first time in the wild, I’ve seen whales, sea otters, and sea lions.
The landscape and animal sightings have been symbols of the wildness that runs through Alaska, but, to me, the town of Sitka does not feel that different from other places. It is one with better scenery and wildlife, but feels like a familiar small town that happens to be settled between lush forest and water. To begin to understand why Alaska is called “The Last Frontier,” I had to see it from above.
In mid-June, Salmon Shares welcomed three journalists to Alaska for two days of education about the company’s operations and the state of wild Alaskan seafood. Joining us were Hannah Agran from Midwest Living, NPR columnist Natalie Jacewicz, and freelance journalist Sandra Ramani.
I joined them and Salmon Shares co-founder and fisherman Marsh Skeele for their first day in Alaska. The day began with a flight to the other side of the island to visit Baranof Warm Springs, a roadless community of about fifteen cabins accessible only by boat or plane.
The short time I’ve spent in Sitka has been full of first times and new experiences. I boarded a small six-seater floatplane, never having done so before. Less than a minute after taking off, we all had our cameras in hand, taking photos of the island below us. Quickly, Sitka disappeared and I found myself looking down at mountains and alpine forest. Seeing the island from above allowed me to understand just how remote Sitka is, settled on a largely unoccupied mass of land known to many as the vast and majestic Tongass National Forest.
As someone who is used to flying over cornfields, spotting small strips of road and tiny cars in between squares of yellow and green, the forty-five minutes we spent above the island was unlike anything I had experienced.
After landing on the water, we were greeted by Salmon Shares fishermen Dawn and Mark Young, who fish for king and coho on the Fishing Vessel Bella Dawn. They also own a cabin in Baranof Warm Springs. They cooked us a lunch of fish and venison that Mark had harvested before we joined them on their smaller boat: the “Miss Behavin.”
Prior to our arrival, Mark set out and baited spot prawn pots so we could experience the process of catching, cleaning, and eating wild Alaskan seafood firsthand. After a short trip out to the buoys, Marsh and Mark prepared to pull up the pots to see what we caught.
Soon, they poured dozens into a big bucket. By the time they were finished, hundreds of prawns squirmed in the container on the deck.
I was most excited to find that several other sea creatures attached themselves onto the mesh pots. We took turns passing around two types starfish that had latched onto some pots and then helped Dawn process the prawns by separating the heads from the bodies.
After returning to shore, Mark led us on a short hike to the warm springs: A small natural hot spring about a half mile from their cabin. On our way, we took a detour to see Baranof Lake, just a short hike past the springs.
For the flight back to Sitka, the pilot chose to take a different route and fly directly over the mountains — the bumpier route — to avoid bad weather coming in. I’m glad he took it, even if it wasn’t the smoothest flight. The new route allowed me to see new parts of the landscape and I was closer to the earth than before, able to see the details below me more closely before Sitka emerged as suddenly as it had disappeared before.
People flock to Sitka in the summer months. Fishermen and other workers come back year after year for work and to enjoy the city. Salmon Shares helps with this flow of people, employing fishermen that return annually or reside year-round in Sitka. Many of the employees at the processing plant came to Alaska from the Midwest or Southwest, making their homes here for the summer or longer.
Though their time here was brief, the journalists that joined us were able to experience Alaskan wilderness and seafood at the finest.