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Wild Salmon and Halibut: Traditional Foods of Southeast Alaska

Totem pole in Southeast Alaska
Totem pole in Sitka’s Totem Park

Some time between 45,000 to 13,000 years ago, hunter-gatherers made their way across the Bering land bridge from Siberia to what we now know as Alaska. The earth’s water was frozen in glaciers and the world’s sea levels were much lower than they are today, allowing them to cross by land from Asia to North America. Alaska is a word derived from Aleut meaning “the object toward which the action of the sea is directed,” and the sea is what has sculpted life on our wild land. These first Americans slowly migrated across the American continent. To sustain themselves, they at first collectively hunted land mammals. But at some time roughly 4000 years ago these early Americans began to fish for salmon in the Pacific Northwest. In a month’s worth of fishing, they could catch enough fish to feed their families for the year. Typically, these early Americans would dry the salmon over wooden poles or they would make what we now know as salmon candy.

Numerous varieties of seafood, and in particular salmon, were essential to the early Americans’ diets. In Southeast Alaska, the Tlingits harvested halibut, shellfish and seaweed in the spring. By early summer, it was time to fish for salmon and gather salmonberries. Food is a central part of the Tlingit culture—the rich land and waters of southeast Alaska the provider. Because of the rich bounties from the land and sea, the Tlingits were one of the richest societies in human history—both rich in nourishing food and rich in arts and culture because having good food gave them time to develop rich storytelling and artistic traditions.

Managed for sustainability, the sea continues to provide in Alaska, as we have bountiful harvests of halibut, wild king salmon, wild coho salmon, and sablefish aka black cod to share. These are the traditional foods that make Southeast Alaska special. You can get our southeast Alaska king salmon, halibut and sablefish together in our Sitka Special variety pack. Nowadays, those seeking these traditional foods and a Paleo diet find our wild seafood to be a super-nutritious treat. They can either come up to Alaska and fish for themselves or they can order online here to get our Alaska seafood delivered to their doorsteps.

Each of the Tlingit clans have their own crests, which are sometimes displayed on totem poles like these in Totem Park, the heart of Sitka. If you walk through Totem Park, you can see the numerous totem poles, and if you’re there at the park late in the summer, you can also see thousands of wild salmon swimming up Indian River, headed to spawn. It’s a special place that we like to share with our special bounties from the sea.