Photo courtesy of Cale LaDuke
We begin the 11th season of our Community Supported Fishery with a story in The Catch of Cale LaDuke’s harrowing shipwreck last season.
A Sitka Salmon Shares fisherman since 2018, Cale’s experience reminds us of the dangers our fishermen face in the wild and the resilience that a community’s support brings to operations like Cale’s.
The work we do together at Sitka Salmon Shares is so much more than harvesting and eating fish. Our work invests in a future where small-boat fishermen like Cale not only survive but thrive. This is a future where the work they do to bring wild food to our table is celebrated and sustained by all of us who appreciate their labor.
We’re happy to have you on board for our second decade in operation.
—Nic Mink, co-founder
Shipwrecked in Sitka
Plenty can go wrong in the life of a fisherman. Commercial fishermen are 29 times more likely to suffer a fatal accident on the job than the national average. Sitka Salmon Shares began so that our fishermen could access communities that appreciated the value of their labor. Working in wild, dynamic environments will always present unique dangers. Technology has made life on the ocean safer, but nothing beats training and experience with the perils of fishing.
Sitka’s own Cale LaDuke knows this first- hand. While a teenager, Cale spent an entire summer, from July until Halloween, fishing off the Aleutian Islands. His skipper required that he take a safety course because of the danger of fishing in the Bering Sea. He earned CPR certification and became very familiar with all the necessary survival gear. The crew would practice drills on the vessel to prepare for different scenarios. What if there’s a fire in the engine room? What do you do if a crewmember suddenly disappears? What if the vessel is taking on water? Cale came to enjoy learning all the possible ways a trip could go wrong. “I felt like, had something gone wrong, we’d be OK,” Cale says.
And plenty went wrong. From losing an anchor to running aground to having a navigation computer blink out, Cale experienced a range of perils over 13 years as a deckhand. Engines died. Storms made simple tasks, like walking, dangerous. Nerves frayed. Eventually the years of physical and mental strain of fishing remote and dangerous seas caught up with Cale. He asked himself, “How long am I going to do this? Forever?” Even after his best friend was promoted to skipper, Cale says everyone reaches a limit and needs space and time to themselves. He loved his friend and skipper like a brother, Cale says, but “after you spend so much time with people — like years and years and years — I told him ‘I’m tired of seeing your face!’”
Feeling burned out, Cale went to Mexico in the off-season to consider his future. He already possessed a troll fishing permit and a boat, the F/V Saami, and worked as a deckhand to pay for the necessary gear and repairs to make it seaworthy. Finally, he was ready for the 2020 season and joined with Sitka Salmon Shares. “Everything was going really well until the end of August.”
On the night of Saturday, August 29, Cale was bringing the Saami into Sitka harbor when he ran aground on Six-Mile Rock. His deck lights didn’t reach the rocks off his bow, and his navigation computer locked up leaving him blind. He tried reversing out of the rock, but the waves beat the Saami further into them.
“It was starting to get really violent in the boat,” Cale says. “I was in a shallow reef, and the surf was picking the boat up and slamming it down.” It became difficult to simply stand. The refrigerator door flew open, nearly hitting Cale in the face and spilling obstacles across the galley floor. His years of safety training kicked in. Cale decided it was time to abandon the boat and send out a distress call. He gathered his emergency radios, flares, flashlights, donned his survival suit, and made his way to the deck.
The long trolling poles smashed against the rock violently. “I was looking for a spot to jump off to the rock, so I went up on the bow and jumped off,” Cale says. After jumping out of the way of his gear, Cale realized he was close enough to town that he had cell service. He dialed 911 and used his Garmin InReach to request SOS assistance. Within minutes he saw a helicopter. He lit a handheld flare to grab their attention.
“I didn’t know, but they’ve got infrared night vision so they can see everything anyways,” Cale says. He made his way to the top of the rock. The U.S. Coast Guard helicopter crew lowered a rescue diver who checked Cale for injuries and secured him to a harness. He was pulled to safety in seconds.
As the helicopter returned to the airfield at Sitka, Cale looked out the window and saw several boats coming in to offer assistance. Living in rural Alaska requires an adventurous spirit, but it also demands community. Cale is fortunate to have both.
Losing his ship caused Cale to consider less dangerous careers on the sea, including ecotourism. He decided that, because of the success of Sitka Salmon Shares in finding a market for small- scale operations like his, he could stay in commercial fishing. The CSF paid him for his expected catch and a friend set up a GoFundMe page to get him back on his feet. “It’s amazing because I didn’t have to ask anyone,” Cale says. “Everyone is just there for you. It’s part of the code of the sea.”
Cale is grateful for all the support he received from the community and is preparing his new vessel, F/V Kraken, for a safe and prosperous year ahead. His girlfriend, Chandler, is expecting a child in May, and he says his family reminds him of what really matters: “I told Chandler I’ll take a month off,” Cale says. “And when the kids are a little older, we’ll take a family fishing trip every year ... where they can see it and learn about it.”
If you are lucky enough to get a box of fish from the F/V Kraken, you’ll know those fish connect you to this resilient (and growing) family in Sitka. Your support of our community supported fishery provides small-boat fishermen like Cale with a market that rewards their hard and often dangerous work. Thank you!
To learn more about Cale and the rest of our fleet visit Our Fishermen page.
The Fish That Fed Your Fish
The arrival of herring spawn marks the beginning of spring in Sitka. My family harvests roe on hemlock boughs and even loads up the back of my dad’s truck with roe that washes up on the beach to use as fertilizer. The eggs we take feed us and our garden, and the eggs that are left in the ocean go on to feed future generations of salmon, halibut, rockfish, and cod...
Read more from local Sitkan, Emma Bruhl.
Grace in the Kitchen
How I Learned to Eat Like an Alaskan
Welcome back, Salmonsharesians! I hope you all had a great winter and are excited about this new season of delicious (and responsibly harvested) fish. During the break, our culinary team went full throttle to create dozens of sensational new recipes, and I had a great time cooking my way through all of them. Yes, it actually is hard work, thank you!
If you’ve visited our website recently, you may have noticed that many of our newest recipes look a little different. There are curries, tacos, rice bowls, hors d’oeuvres, breakfast scrambles, party dips, nachos, and more — in addition to the traditional dinnertime “fish ‘n’ twos.”
My conversations with some of our fishermen these past few months revealed that a good number of these folks have fish for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And that fish, while worthy of respect and reverence, is, at the end of the day, a piece of protein that satisfies hunger. Whether Darius Kasprzak broils a seasoned rockfish fillet, slathered with his homemade tartar sauce for a tasty sandwich, or John Skeele scrambles up some eggs and bacon with halibut for a hearty breakfast, one thing is clear. Eating like an Alaskan can mean that there’s fish at your table at any or every meal.
Maybe this will inspire you to think about fish in a different way. As always, I wish you all peace, happiness, and of course, great fish — even for breakfast!