Sourcing salmon from around Alaska
Published September 27, 2021
In Alaska, the fuschia fireweed blooms alert locals that summer’s clock is ticking. The story goes that when fireweed is out to seed, the salmon are in the streams. By mid-August, the blossoms have ascended their stalks and the vast majority of salmon have returned to their home streams.
The summer salmon season in Alaska has a rhythm that we all follow — early runs of sockeye, keta, and king in mid-May transition into later runs of coho and pink that dwindle into late October. However, the summer frenzy of salmon harvesting is really isolated from mid-June to mid-August — bookended by the life of the fireweed flower. Within this summer salmon season, there are unique fishery timelines. These salmon harvest opportunities can be as short as a couple of days, such as the Southeast Alaska troll fishery king salmon opener, or stretch over months, as seen in the Southeast gillnet fishery.
By the time we are packing our member’s August and September shares, we are able to piece together the different salmon options from the fish caught by our fishermen in Sitka and our trusted partners from different fisheries around the state.
At the end of June, our Sitka troll fishermen slowly picked up some coho salmon from Southeast Alaska’s outer coast and waited for the king salmon opener on July 1. The July king salmon opener was the first opportunity for trollers to harvest the majority of the allocated summer king salmon harvest in Southeast Alaska. The opener was short and frustrating, lasting just over a week and was a lesson in understanding catch variation and how much relies on fishing location, effort, and just plain luck. Although the total number of harvested king salmon met the harvest limit, the number of king salmon offloaded to the Sitka processing facility was less than we expected due to the majority of the fish being located further from Sitka.
At this same time, the well-known Bristol Bay sockeye salmon fishery was already in full swing. Located in Western Alaska, just north of the long arm of the Aleutian chain, Bristol Bay is home to the largest wild salmon fishery in the world
Back in Southeast, our fleet was further stifled by a slow start to coho fishing in late July and early August. The second king salmon opener started Friday, August 13th, with the goal to catch the remaining allocated harvest for trollers. The auspicious day came with terrible weather which hampered fishing efforts. Coinciding with the poor weather window was a prosperous local keta salmon fishery— so prosperous that many of our fleet chose to focus on keta rather than king or coho. Healthy returns of keta close to Sitka that fetched a relatively high price created a safe and reliable fishery for our Sitka fishermen to participate in. We are thrilled that there is plenty of keta salmon to share and that our members are learning to love this fish. Traditionally, keta salmon has been an underutilized salmon species in the seafood scene and not one our troll fishermen targeted. However, in the past decade we have seen that change with better quality handling practices, a more diverse market, and higher prices for fishermen. But for many seafood lovers, keta is no king salmon and we know many of our members were disappointed in the amount of king salmon they received this year. The Southeast king salmon troll fishery is a small and very special fishery. We worked with our fleet and partners to do what we can to secure as much as possible for our members, but we are subject to the dynamics of nature, including how many fish there are, where the fish are, and what is in our fleet’s best interest to focus on. Our Premium share members have the king salmon harvest from our fleet in the second king salmon opener to look forward to in their October shares.
The fireweed in Alaska has now lost all of its fuschia blooms and is turning into bright red stalks. As they die off, we know salmon season in Alaska is coming to a close. It will take some time for fishery managers and fishermen to make a full assessment of how the season shook out. There were some major bright spots, especially in the booming Bristol Bay fishery, and some positive rebounds in the state’s sockeye salmon fisheries compared to last year. This included the Copper River region, which allowed us to procure a small amount to offer and include in a Freezer sale.
At Sitka Salmon Shares, our fishermen and sourcing team remain in close connection with what’s happening in the fisheries and are constantly striving to work with what nature provides to deliver the best member experience possible. Our supply chain is diversified across the state, which helps us weather ups and downs that are inherent in wild fisheries. We are also continuing to build new relationships with our expanding fleet of fishermen and trusted partners. Our team also actively monitors and works to support healthy salmon runs for the future through advocating for habitat protection, urging action on climate change, and supporting nonprofits dedicated to these causes through our 1% to the Wild Fund.
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