As our fishermen catch the last salmon of the season, we are reminded of the importance of safeguarding fish stocks for the coming year. Indigenous communities in Alaska have successfully defended salmon stocks for thousands of years, and we look to honor that tradition so these fish remain for generations to come.
In this issue we highlight the role of science in securing fish populations and fishing as a way of life for Alaskan communities into the future. We talked to a few scientists of the sea, from fisheries biologists to one of our own fishermen-owners who is a strong voice in fisheries policy.
Our small-boat fishermen apply time-tested tools such as low impact nets and hooks that would be familiar to their ancestors. Modern technology blends the old with the new and connects fishermen to biologists hundreds of miles away so they can apply the latest scientific knowledge.
Although the science has evolved over the centuries, the goal remains the same: ensure enough fish escape our boats to secure a vibrant fishing season next year. For that reason, the most important fish in the sea are the ones we don’t catch.
—The Sitka Salmon Shares Fishermen & Crew
Scientists of the Sea
As summer transitions into autumn, we are all reminded of how the seasons still regulate our relationship with food. Our fishermen just caught the last of the summer salmon runs and are making plans for hunting expeditions and the well-earned rest that comes with the off-season. Accounting for such variability can be tricky, but it results in a healthier habitat, stronger fishing communities, and a better tasting fish for you.
Our community supported fishery is all about respecting the rhythms and limits of nature. Our projected catch reflects what nature provides. While the seasons provide us with unmistakable signals, how do our fishermen know if there truly are enough fish in the sea to catch responsibly?
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) is responsible for researching and managing state fisheries, such as salmon, to both protect resources into the future and to ensure all stakeholders have access to wild fish. Lowell Fair and Troy Thynes are two biologists at ADF&G tasked with managing fish stocks in Southeast Alaska, which includes our home port in Sitka. Thynes, who focuses on salmon and herring stocks, explains the dual mandate of research and management as a “fine balancing act.” “In the winter we publish reports that summarize harvests over the prior season,” Thynes explains. “Once we get into the season, we make decisions on a week-to-week and day-to-day basis, based on harvest, run size, and stock compositions.” All this information is communicated to fishermen through advisory announcements and personal phone calls. “It’s a very public process,” Thynes says.
Lowell Fair, the regional supervisor for all of Southeast Alaska, says their “primary objective is to meet sustainable escapement goals.” Escapement is the annual estimated size of the spawning salmon stock. It is critical to ensuring a healthy run into the future. Fisheries biologists count fish through various methods. Observation towers, sonar systems, weirs, and mark-recapture tagging studies all allow biologists to estimate fish abundance. “Sometimes we fly an aerial survey and count peak numbers,” Fair says of more remote locations. All of this data, from the pre-season assessments to in-season reporting, determines the length of salmon “openers,” or the the periods when a fishery is open to commercial harvest. If a fishery doesn’t meet its escapement goal, its season may be cut short or stay closed, as happened this year with the Copper River sockeye fishery.
Fishermen also play a critical role as stewards of fish stocks. “We are the eyes and ears of the ocean,” Sitka Salmon Shares fisherman-owner Jeff Farvour says, speaking from his vessel on a patch of sea off the western coast of Kruzof Island. With Mt. Edgecombe, a dormant volcano visible throughout Sitka Sound, as a backdrop, Farvour somehow juggles the phone while piloting the F/V Apollo. “This is a really old fishery. There are some modern electronics, but this is fairly old technology that still works really well.” As Farvour maneuvers his vessel past a patch of kelp, he talks about reporting numbers to a state biologist. “The local area troll biologist has to manage down to the individual fish for king salmon,” Farvour says.
Good science also depends on cultivating relationships with a wide array of stakeholders. In the off-season, Farvour participates in policy and management forums of Alaska’s fisheries and is also the vice president of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association (ALFA). “Those personal relationships I developed, where you get to see and participate with everyone working together, even if you are on opposite sides of an issue, has been the most rewarding part. You can often find not just common ground but strong alliances in what you would have thought to be an otherwise unlikely place,” Farvour says.
Farvour recognizes the challenges of ensuring there are enough fish in the sea to catch next year. One issue he is concerned about the impact of the growing sport fishing industry, particularly of charter boats that cater to out-of-state tourists at the expense of historic fisheries. “If I screw up, even if it’s unintentional, they [the State of Alaska] could yank my license for a year,” he says. Charter boats self-report their catch, which creates a different standard among fishermen. Bob Chadwick, the sport fish biologist for ADF&G acknowledges the need for better data. “By 2021, all charter vessels will be required to use electronic logbooks,” Chadwick says. “We get in-season data now, but this will be more efficient.” For Farvour, he wants to make sure “the people who live here that depend on these resources for food and livelihood” maintain access.
Despite these challenges and the unsettling threat of climate change, Farvour stays engaged in the science of the sea. Farvour takes pride in catching “the world’s healthiest foods that are best managed for people who really appreciate it. I love it!”
At Sitka Salmon Shares we are committed to managing our impact on this vast ecosystem for future generations. It’s hard work, but it’s critical and worth doing. Science is a process that requires collaboration, and we are proud of the unheralded work of fishermen and state biologists in managing fish stocks today so they are here tomorrow.
Five delicious recipes for leftover salmon
1. Salmon Scramble. Sauté your leftover salmon with your favorite spices. Add beaten eggs, scramble together, and you have yourself our famous salmon scramble.
2. Salmon burgers, of course! Bind 1 pound of salmon together with 1 egg, breadcrumbs, and your favorite spices. Form into patties, and sear until golden brown for about 2 minutes per side. Serve on your favorite bun with greens, mustard, and herbed aioli.
3. For meatballs, follow the burger recipe but form bite-sized balls instead, and then bake, broil, or poach them in your favorite pasta sauce. Serve with linguini.
4. Salmon burritos. Sauté your salmon with cumin, chipotle, and lime. Combine it with your favorite burrito fillings and wrap it all up in a flour tortilla. (This one is also great as salmon tacos.)
5. Mac ‘N’ Cheese. Need we say more? Mix your salmon leftovers into your favorite baked mac ‘n’ cheese recipe and savor the added salmon protein punch.
Wood plank grilling
Cooking with wood planks is easy. Make sure to soak the plank in water for two hours before grilling, and keep it away from direct contact with a flame.
Here’s why we love cooking with wood planks:
They add a subtle, smoky flavor to your fish as it cooks over open fire or on a grill. The kind of wood you use determines that gentle flavor. Cedar, alderwood, hickey, maple, applewood—the options are endless.
They protect the fish from direct heat, allowing for low-and-slow rather than flash grilling.
Your fish won’t stick to the grill! Cooked skin-side down, the salmon will slide off the plank easily once cooked.
They heighten the presentation of your meal. A beautiful fillet of fish atop a lightly charred wood plank is sure to impress anyone.
You can add flavor by adding sprigs of rosemary, slices of lemon, or even small pine branches in between the plank and your fillet.