March in Sitka, Alaska, is the time of welcoming back the fleet. Vacations are over, rest has been had, and the harbors and supply stores come alive with the return of the fleet to their vessels. New faces walk the docks looking for jobs as crew members, and trucks park dockside to unload longline gear. Some vessels are taking off their bairdi crab pots in preparation for fishing sablefish or herring and some vessels are taking off their winter coverings and storing the heaters that kept their vessels from freezing in the cold winter months.
I love the bustle of town in March. It’s like everyone is waking up from hibernation. The first signs of spring are the sprouts of skunk cabbage in the muskeg and only days later you’ll see those same young shoots chomped in half by a bear just waking from actual hibernation.
In these first days of the month, I’ll be working with my crew to deliver ice and bait to our longline fleet in preparation for their first trips to fish for sablefish and halibut. I’m excited to see the faces of our fleet and celebrate the start of a successful fishing season. We wish them calm seas, fair winds, and good catches as they depart into the often not-so-pleasant seas and snow storms of March fishing. Full fish holds mean full freezers and there’s nothing better than a freezer full of wild Alaska seafood! Thank you for being such a big part of our fishing family and supporting the Sitka Salmon Shares fleet and their families!
—Lauren Mitchell, Sitka fleet manager
Meet the Crew of the FV Audacious
Thais Taylor was born a long way from Alaska. “I grew up in Puerto Rico and I now live in the Virgin Islands,” she says. “I’ve been working on the water for about ten years, mostly on charter boats.” She is in her element at sea.
Thais met Drew Terhaar, captain of the F/V Audacious, by chance at a mutual friend’s wedding several years ago and he introduced her to what Alaska had to offer. “He brought some delicious king salmon for the wedding and I was just like, ‘Oh my god, where do I get some of that?’” After working as deckhand on the F/V Audacious this past fishing season trolling for salmon, Thais has found an answer.
Growing up outside Chicago, Drew wasn’t always a seasoned salmon fisherman. “I went to school for geology,” Drew remembers. “When I was doing geology, part of what I liked about it is that we did a lot of field work and got outside.” For Drew, the career path of a geologist left a lot to be desired. “It was hard because all the jobs start out at 25 grand, and you get two weeks vacation time,” he recalls. “It didn't sound very good.”
As he was deciding on his future, one of Drew’s friends spent a summer deckhanding on commercial fishing vessels in Sitka. Drew liked what he heard enough to drop everything and fly up to Sitka. “I went up there and I stayed in the hostel and I got up every day and walked around and talked to all the fishermen I saw until I found a job,” Drew says.
Drew enjoyed the experience so much he bought a boat of his own. He met Marsh Skeele, co-founder of Sitka Salmon Shares, through mutual friends and he joined as a fisherman-owner during the winter of 2014-2015.
Drew bought the F/V Audacious in January of 2020 and its size necessitated some help. “Drew posted on Facebook that he was looking for a deckhand and within minutes I replied ‘I'm in!’ without thinking about it, which is usually how things go,” Thais remembers. “Two weeks later, I'm flying to Alaska.”
As the rest of the country was bombarded with news about the early stages of the pandemic and the 2020 election, Thais enjoyed the isolation of working on the sea. “Not having contact with the world through a phone, I'm used to that,” she says. “It's something that I love and I seek those moments of being completely disconnected.”
Nutrition, always a focus for Thais, became important during the long trips at sea. “I grew up eating a lot of seafood on the islands and Puerto Rico,” Thais says. For the past 15 years she has followed a pescatarian diet. “Seafood is very important in my life and I care about what I put in my body.”
Thais says the Sitka Salmon Shares model fits her nutrition philosophy well. “I want to know where my food is coming from,” she says. That’s easy enough on the boat when you pull dinner from the ocean with your own hands. Thais says she eats well on the F/V Audacious, and that she and Drew trade off cooking duties. “Drew is a good cook and we like to compete,” she says. Her favorite dishes this year were curries and king salmon pad thai.
Thais found work on a vessel fishing for sea cucumbers late in 2021, but she looks forward to her winters back home in the islands even if her family and friends want a share of her home pack of Alaska seafood. “Everybody and their mother wants fish,” she says. Her comfort food at home is simple: “I'm gonna have rice and beans, and fried green plantains and snapper—It's my favorite meal.”
Drew also thinks about how meals connect members to all the work he does on the F/V Audacious. “When you know that every fish you catch is going to have your name on it, you want every fish to be perfect because people know it's you who caught it,” he says. Drew is always learning and honing his craft to deliver the highest quality fish possible. “It's really important to start bleeding the fish right away and get them cleaned quickly,” Drew says, “because if you have them sitting there on deck for too long it starts going into rigor mortis.”
Drew is now a long ways away from the struggling geology graduate, but his training and experience drive him to solve problems. “You gotta be everything to run a fishing boat: an electrician and a mechanic and a plumber because you always have stuff breaking,” he says.
Coho, he says, presents unique problems. In late June and early July, Drew says, “they are eating nonstop and you'll slice them open and they'll have three herring that are like eight inches long jammed into their belly.” He says that their digestive system is so active that speed matters. “They get what's called ‘belly burn’ because their stomach acid will start eating through and burn the meat if you don't dress them right away.”
Keep an eye out for salmon from the F/V Audacious. Behind every portion of fish in your box is a story similar to that of Drew and Thais, who care as much as you do that we deliver the freshest catch possible. “I think there's a global understanding of consumers who want to know where their food is coming from,” Thais says. “That is something that I appreciate because I also value how good healthy, fresh food can be.”
Right now, Thais and Drew are resting up before the summer rush. Drew soaks up sun in California and Thais is taking a yoga class with our Fleet Manager, Lauren Mitchell, and Communications Coordinator, Emma Bruhl. Thais is also looking ahead to where her path leads. “I've gotten the bug,” she says. “It definitely crosses my mind regularly if I want to get my own boat.” Although she wants more experience before commanding her own vessel, Thais is happy to have found a second home in Alaska and the possibilities it offers.
Grace in the Kitchen
I love March because it’s National Sauce Month. In fact, I love it so much that I wrote an entire book about how to Get Saucy!
Sauces can seem superfluous, like an afterthought, when putting together a meal. But a quick compound butter, a savory pan sauce, or an herb salsa can turn a simple piece of fish into something spectacular with very little effort. All you need are a few essential ingredients—butter, white wine (not cooking wine, thank you!), fresh herbs, fruity olive oil, freshly squeezed lemon juice, and garlic or shallot—and you can create a countless number of sauces.
Recently, two Sitka Salmon members asked me to try their products: butter and wine, two of my essential sauce ingredients. When I learned that their companies’ visions and values mirrored ours—organic, clean-to-market, small-batch producers, farmer-owned, low environmental impact on harvesting, and exceptional quality—the answer was, “yes, please!”
Birgit Huffman, owner of Fond O’Foods, imports butter from Germany. Exceptionally delicious, this European-style butter has 82% butterfat and makes exquisite compound butters. Add some minced shallot, chopped fresh thyme, and crunchy sea salt to the butter and melt it over grilled halibut or salmon—heavenly!
Pia Sairanen, senior director of Scout & Cellar, says, “Life’s too short to drink dirty wine.” Their wines, she adds, go through rigorous testing to guarantee that they’re free of synthetic pesticides or chemical additives. And Scout & Cellar works with small farmers who uphold the highest standards to leave the planet a better place. After searing a piece of sablefish, deglaze the skillet with a splash of dry white wine, swirl in a knob of butter, fold in some chopped fresh dill, then spoon over the fish—divine!
You have 31 days to make some great sauces, and I hope you do! If you get stuck, take a look at our recipe section for inspiration. And do try Birgit’s butter and Pia’s wines.
Interview with Birgit Huffman, owner and founder of Fond o’ Foods
When and why did you start Fond O' Foods?
I started Fond O’ Foods in 2005. I grew up in the Alpine Allgäu region of Southern Germany, and I wanted to bring the food—which is made from pure ingredients in a natural, harmonious, and sustainable environment—to the United States. Foods you can be “fond” of.
How did you decide on one butter and one cheese, and do you have plans to expand your offerings?
There were more foods in the beginning, but the business evolved and organically focused on those two ingredients with ease and grace. We are happy, but open to new offerings or adventures!
Why is your German butter SO DARN GOOD?!
It starts with the huge natural alpine pastures where a multitude of native grasses, flowers, and herbs grow. Our cows, the Allgἂuer Braunvieh breed which gives A2 milk, graze on the juicy grasses of these pastures in the warmer months. Abundant rainfall in these months means plenty of hay cuttings for winter hay. Farmers give the cows plenty of time outside to graze but when the ground becomes overly wet after days of rain, and before the pressure of their hooves damage the Earth, they let the cows enjoy time in the dry, large barn. These small family farmers are in tune with nature, and tend the land from a perspective that allows goodness for all involved, and this makes for excellent, wholesome milk. The farmers make up a co-op dairy where skilled master butter and cheese makers craft our Fond O’ Foods German Butter and Bavarian Emmentaler.
How can people find your products?
Our products are available at select retailers and online. They can also email or call us from our website and we are happy to help. Additionally, they can download a form and ask their local store to carry our products.
How long have you been a member of Sitka Salmon Shares and how did you find us?
We became members in January 2021 after wee were looking for a sustainable seafood source. Our accountant mentioned a friend who was passionate about Sitka Salmon Shares, so we checked out your website and were immediately hooked. Thank you.
What is your favorite seafood that we provide and your favorite preparation?
That’s a tough one. We like all the seafood! Our favorite recipes would be pan-seared salmon with lemon-garlic butter, Thai green curry with halibut or Pacific cod, or in the cold-weather months, the Old Bay White Fish Chowder.
Do you see similarities between your company and Sitka Salmon Shares?
Yes. Sustainability, an outlook that comes from the inside which manifests itself in goodness for all. And the similarity of small family fishermen and fisherwomen and small family farms, both sharing in the success of their livelihoods.
Interview with Pia Sairanen, senior director of Scout & Cellar
When and why did you join Scout & Cellar?
I was attracted to the mission of bringing transparency to the wine world and helping people do better for themselves and the planet. I joined the company in 2018, just shy of our first birthday.
How do you choose the growers that work with you?
We partner with growers who are dedicated to farming the right way, who embody our Clean-Crafted™ commitment in their daily practices. Farmers who allow the vines to produce gorgeous grapes naturally, without the interference of synthetic chemicals or pesticides, always with the eye of leaving the planet better than we found it. Better in the bottle, better in the glass, and better for the planet.
Can you explain what Scout & Cellar Clean-Crafted™ wine standards are?
For a wine to be considered Clean-Crafted, it goes through two rounds of independent lab testing to guarantee that it's free of yucky stuff like synthetic pesticides and chemical additives and has fewer than 100ppm of total sulfites. We also evaluate and review farming and production practices to confirm that they are, in fact, Clean-Crafted. We do this to hold ourselves to a higher standard, because we're committed to offering a more natural, better-tasting wine experience.
What are your favorite Scout & Cellar wines/varietals?
That’s like asking a mother which one is her favorite child, LOL! Depends on my mood, time of year, time of day, what I am eating, or if I just want a porch pounder … I honestly have not met one of our wines that I didn’t love. Recently, I discovered a wine made from Colombard, a grape variety I’d never heard of before, and it has quickly risen to the top of what I grab from the fridge. It’s fruity and crisp with a nice mouthfeel—I find it incredibly versatile. That’s the beauty of this business too, our customers get exposed to wines they may never think to grab off a shelf in a grocery store and may discover a new favorite.
How can people find your wines?
Check out our website and start browsing.
How long have you been a member of Sitka Salmon Shares?
I joined in October, 2020.
What is your favorite seafood and how do you like to prepare it?
I’ve loved exploring the variety of salmon from Sitka Salmon Shares, My go-tos are a simple baked salmon with a quick soy, honey, and ginger glaze, or A Russian salmon kulebyaka puff pastry pie with rice, salmon, hardboiled eggs, and tons of dill served with a strong butter-dill broth. Soups are also in rotation, often in winter; salmon and potato soup with lots of dill is my son’s favorite. The April shellfish box is also much-anticipated treat. Grace’s stir-fried crab legs with ginger-scallion butter is a hit!
Do you see similarities between Scout & Cellar and Sitka Salmon Shares?
Yes! I joke that Sitka Salmon Shares is the Scout & Cellar of the seas. Both companies are founded on supporting families doing the right thing—we partner with small farmers dedicated to growing grapes the right way, much like your fishermen. Every decision we make as a company is with sustainability in mind. For example, our bottles are 30% lighter to reduce carbon footprint, we don't use foil on bottle necks, our corks are recyclable, and we use the same packing material as you do. Both companies have the same high standard of excellent customer service and a 100% satisfaction guarantee. Much like Sitka Salmon Share’s 1% for the Wild program, through our partnership with 1% for the Planet we donate a portion of the proceeds from our Epic Pursuit brand sales to organizations focused on doing better for the planet.