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New Year…New Seafood Routine

Happy New Year!

We hope you and yours are well. Hopefully you’re also starting the new year right with the recommended two to three servings of seafood per week to feed your body and mind. 

We have a lot of customers who only order our King Salmon. Some are very loyal to our famous Gourmet Canned Tuna. Some customers stick with the Halibut.

We all have our routines. Without fail, every week I grill one of our Coho salmon fillets for a Salmon Saturday family meal. For a special weeknight meal, I make our Miso-marinated Sablefish. Tuesday nights, I make salmon tacos with our Easy Salmon. When I forget to bring a lunch to work, I eat our canned tuna or Canned Ivory King Salmon right out of the can. I find this canned ivory king salmon also works perfectly for an easy pasta dish with garlic and capers.

An Instagram follower recently posted this Alaska Gold Halibut with a homemade lime ponzu sauce topped with ginger, green onions on top of steamed rice with broccoli. I’m going to switch up my routine and get this halibut dish into my routine for a nutritious and delicious addition to my routine.

Halibut with Homemade Lime Ponzu Sauce

We used to pack a sampler box with our classic offerings. We are no longer packing this sampler box, but we invite you to customize your own sampler pack to try something new for the new year.

Here’s how you can customize your own variety pack:
 

*Select the fish you want from here. We have box sizes of six portions, 5 pounds and 10 pounds. Combine the species you want. For example, select 5 pounds of halibut and 6 portions of coho salmon. Once you select two or more offers and put them in your cart, enter the following coupon codes at the checkout screen…

With 2 offers in your cart, get $50 off your order with coupon code: 2FishSamplerPack

With 3 offers in your cart, get $75 off your order with coupon code: 3FishSamplerPack

With 4 offers in your cart, get $100 off your order with coupon code: 4FishSamplerPack

In addition, we invite you to try something new. Use the following coupon code for 10% off your order:

TrySomethingNew

Thanks again for being a customer,

Kendall
Alaska Gold Seafood


*Above sampler coupons don’t apply to Loyalty Program subscriptions , bulk orders, or canned items. The TrySomethingNew coupon code does not apply to bulk orders and expires January 31st, 2019.

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Do you know your fisherman?

Do you know your fisherman?

We’ve got all kinds of fishermen in our fleet. Some are poets, some are mathematicians. We’ve got painters, musicians, rocket scientists. Here’s Mike Rentel who comes from a mechanical engineering background with a minor in math and emphasis on machine design and metallurgy. With an MBA emphasis in finance and entrepreneurship and minors in philosophy and behavioral economics, Mike fishes with a crew that consists of a veterinarian and a cattle rancher, both of whom Mike considers smarter than himself.

Alaska Salmon Fisherman

Mike started fishing summers with his grandpa in high school, trolling out of Ilwaco near the Columbia River. After his grandpa passed away, he finished college, but started up again with a 32-foot pocket-seiner/gillnetter and in a couple of years moved up to leased crabbers and a crew of five doing “deadliest catch” king crabs and tanners in the North Gulf of Alaska in the winter while fishing dungies between Icy Bay and Yakutat in the spring.

Mike met his wife, a geology professor, while she was mapping the sea floor off the coast of Chilean Patagonia and Antarctica. As an engineer keeping all the water, heat and electrical systems running in the remote cold wilderness, she was impressed that Mike could fix just about anything. Being able to fix things on the fly is exactly what it takes to run a commercial fishing boat in Alaska, too.

This spirit of adventure, inherent in all of our fishermen, along with a knack for fixing things helped Mike and his wife win the Spirit of Admiralty sailboat race, the longest inland water sailboat race on the West Coast.

Eventually, Mike “downsized” to the Harmony Isle, a 42-foot Wahl/Seamaster freezer boat. “I specifically chose a freezer-boat because I was committed to producing the best quality seafood possible.”

Alaska Salmon

Mike spends winters in Madison, Wisconsin. As part of our fishermen-owned co-op, Mike is just one of the fishermen owners of our company.

We think what’s special about our Alaska Gold Seafood is that it comes from a fishermen-owned company. What we sell is the fish we catch. It’s not uncommon that the fish sold in many places isn’t what they say it is—the fish passes through many hands before getting to you the customer. Though our fishermen would love to personally deliver fish to you, we think purchasing from our website is almost as good. Fish fraud has been around since before the days when Jesus’s disciples fished the Sea of Galilee. Fishermen being underpaid for their hard work has also been a common practice since biblical times. Which is why fishermen-owned co-ops like ours were formed. As owners of the business, fishermen-owners control their own destinies. We’re quite proud of the work we do. We do it with integrity and transparency. And with a deep pride in our quality.

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Celebrating Fishing Fathers for our Alaska Gold Seafood Father’s Day Sale

Within our fishermen-owned co-op, fishing and family go hand in hand. Many of our fishermen grew up fishing with mom and dad, learning the trade, and have passed on the fishing bug to their children. Many of our fishermen come from multiple generations of fishing with the co-op—the Eliasons, the Miller Family, Charlie Wilber and his daughters, Charlie Piercy and his son Abel, and the list goes on.

Raising children on fishing boats is no small endeavor. Recently, Norm Pillen shared a photo memory of fishing with his daughters, and I caught up with him to get the details behind the picture.

“This was my last summer salmon trolling on the Katie J in 2000” Norm told me. Norm has since moved on to operating a tender boat, the Sea Lion, during salmon season. “I was hoping to focus more on family time, but it ended up being a really big salmon season, which made it more challenging. My wife and I took time when we could to walk on the beach, whale watch, and appreciate nature with our daughters, but I heard my coding partners talking about really high scores of fish, and then we’d go chase the fish.” (Before cell phones, fishermen friends or “coding partners” used to communicate on radio using a preset code to disguise fishing reports from others listening in on the radio.)

“Unfortunately, both of my daughters LeAnne and Marissa inherited their mom’s inclination toward seasickness, and they went through a lot, and I would feel guilty when they got sick, but it was hard to tame my competitive edge to catch more fish. It tore at my heart. But that summer we had a really nice balance of fishing hard and playing hard with the family. There was a time we pulled in to Gut Bay, just hoping to have  a quiet evening to relax, but we ran into schools of salmon, and we did everything we could to work as fast as possible to make it look like we weren’t catching fish, and it worked for a while, but then we couldn’t hide it any longer, and half the fleet joined us in the bay.”

fathers day sale
Norm with daughters LeAnne and Marissa on the Katie J.

“Both of the girls have since worked with me on the Sea Lion,” Norm mentions, referring to his current salmon tendering operation, and how his daughters have kept up the fishing tradition. Marissa’s a mom and LeAnne’s studying to be a nurse now, but “fishing is still important, especially to LeAnne, who out-fished me trout fishing on a day off a week or so ago—she almost always gets the first fish. LeAnne took after her dad,” Norm notes proudly. “There was a time when we were anchored in Mite Cove. One of our fleet mates said there were no halibut in the cove that year, and what does LeAnne do but pull out a 106-pound halibut within a few minutes of fishing. That is so like her.”

“That summer I remember so many days of fishing hard, long days, and taking breaks to make sandwiches for the kids. We had a 12-volt TV that you can see in that picture and the only tape we had was Bugs Bunny, which they watched over and over when mom and dad were fishing. This was before cell phones and tablets. But they learned a lot of important lessons on the boat. Firstly, how to follow directions. They learned to always wear their life jackets and to always hold on to the rails of the boat with one hand. They learned to appreciate nature and the value of hard work. We had a lot of adventures and good family times on the boat that summer, but driving the Alcan Highway back home to Washington state, the engine blew up and we spent a week in the middle of nowhere waiting to get back on the road. It was a great family summer. It was a summer of adventures. They were young, but I think our daughters took good memories and lessons from those experiences.”

We hope this summer that you our customers celebrate dads, moms, and good family times with our Alaska Gold Seafood. Here’s a dish Norm recommends for the summer—halibut shish kebabs. Soaked in teriyaki sauce, with peppers, pineapple chunks, onions, put on the grill for a few minutes, let cool and they will melt in your mouth. Check out our Father’s Day Sale here.

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What’s so special about Alaska Gold Salmon? Wild Alaskan salmon is truly a gift

Whole Wild Coho Salmon and Fillet

If you’re going to do something, you have to set your internal compass toward excellence and go for it, because nothing else matters.

I recently ate a home pack of our Alaska Gold Salmon and, as I often do afterwards, thought to myself, “Wow! This is really good stuff!”

It made me think about just how special our Alaska Gold salmon really are. It took only a bit of research to discover that…

Of the total world salmon supply sold for food, only around 12% of it is wild Alaskan. (A huge portion of the remainder is Atlantic aka farmed salmon.)

Of all the wild Alaska salmon, only about 1.5% of that is caught by the traditional hook and line methods like we use.

Of the line-caught Alaskan king salmon and coho salmon out there, 30% is from our fishermen-owned cooperative, which has been known for its fastidious attention to quality and integrity for over 70 years.

So, the salmon we catch is the best 1/20th of 1% in the world! 1/20th of 1%= 1 pound out of a ton. Which means that our Alaska Gold salmon is the best of the best of the best!

Alaska Gold salmon is caught by members of Seafood Producers Cooperative, a fishermen-owned co-op based in Sitka, Alaska. We have immense pride in serving our customers the finest king salmon and coho salmon available.

Rich and buttery, our wild king salmon portions are our most popular offering. Available in boxes of 6-portion, 5-pound and 10-pound boxes. Fill your freezer or get a group of friends to have our discounted 20-pound box of  king salmon portions delivered to your home. We also have ivory (white) king salmon , in addition to our absolutely delicious canned Southeast Alaska Line-Caught Ivory King Salmon.

More than any fish we catch coho salmon is arguably the heart and soul of our region and our fishermen-owned co-op. Each summer coho salmon return to the thousands of tiny creeks that stream through the ancient trees of the Tongass Rain Forest, which makes up a good part of southeast Alaska. You can watch them jump up waterfalls, giving it their all, with the aim of returning to a little pool to spawn. Our fishermen catch each wild coho salmon One Hook One Fish At A Time on the ocean at their peak, then dress and ice each salmon to keep them in perfect condition until they reach our customers. Available in boxes of 6 portions, 5 pounds and 10 pounds, we also have fill-your-freezer larger, discounted boxes of bulk coho salmon portions, too.

“You don’t grow old eating Alaska Gold.” The nutrients in salmon are many and it’s no wonder we can fish through the long 16-hour days of the salmon season. Wild Alaskan Salmon is truly a gift. Each year they keep coming back to take care of us and keep us nourished through the winter.

As a fishermen-owned co-op, we’ve been part of Alaska and the Pacific Northwest for a long time and we look forward to delivering you the highest quality seafood.

Click on this photo to see the story of our line-caught wild Alaskan salmon.
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Gurry, guts, and halibut, a poem by fisherpoet Becky Haun

Becky Haun, fisherpoet.
Becky Haun, fisherpoet.

 

Gurry, guts, and halibut

 

by becky kay haun in honor of the DECKHAND, male or female

 

Gurry, guts, and halibut

No shower for a week.

Sand fleas in my belly button,

I’m too tired to eat or sleep.

 

My wool socks stand in the corner.

My long johns have faded green.

Gurry, guts, and halibut

Smells like money in my dreams.

 

Clad in boots deemed extra tuff

And rain gear from head to toe,

The crew chats as they bait the gear

Through rain and fog and snow!

 

While coiling line and sharpening hooks

They share endless tales from the past,

Making splicing line and cleaning slime

Become eventful sort of tasks.

 

Once out at sea and in full swing

Life seems to pass us by.

We never know the day of the week

And never care or wonder why!

 

Dressed in our fisherman tuxedo

With salt water dripping from our nose,

We figure one more set like that last one

And we will all be smelling like a rose!

 

Gurry, guts, and halibut,

The smell of money is in the air.

So shoot the skates and bait some more

For we are almost halfway there.

 

“Gurry, guts, and halibut,”

The crew chants until the trip is through.

Clad in our fisherman tuxedo,

We are the best dressed halibut crew.

 

Quality Seafood
Fresh Halibut.

 

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One Hook One Fish

Troll-caught Salmon

One Hook One Fish At A Time

We small boat hook and line fishermen catch and process One Hook One Fish At A Time. This is a traditional way of fishing that results in an extremely high quality fish. Our fish are caught, bled, processed and put on ice within minutes of being caught. Our catch method and handling procedures are unparalleled in the industry.

This video illustrates what is special about fishing with hook and line methods.

Here’s how it works:

Each of us fishermen has techniques that we have gained over many years and sometimes passed along in families through generations of fishing. Using our knowledge of where freely migrating fish might be, we fishermen head out and, once at waters we deem to be appropriate for weather and tide conditions, troll with lures or baited hooks at slow speeds. Typically, we try to troll at the speed that the fish we are catching would be swimming. This not only makes the lures more appealing but minimizes stress on the fish, making for a better quality fish. Through years of trial and error, we fishermen have found the right combination of line, lures and boat speeds to find the right fish.

We hook and line fishermen have a deep connection with the ocean and an expansive knowledge of where and how to find the biting fish. Once a fish is on the line, we know what type of fish it is and its size. We minimize bycatch with our knowledge of where to fish and by pinpointing species with the right lures. We bring the fish to the boat and deliver it onto the boat at the exact moment to avoid any damage to the fish. Once aboard, we bleed and gut the fish immediately. We then quickly ice or  freeze the fish capturing the fish in its freshest state so that you can enjoy the highest quality seafood on land.

One Fish At A Time produces the best quality fish and is good for the overall health of the fisheries. Here’s a video on our Good Catch. 

Sustainable Seafood

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From Our Family to Yours

Father and son Fishermen.
Father and son Fishermen.

From our Family to Yours…

Seafood Producers Cooperative is made up of over 550 fishermen members, who are the owners of and stakeholders for our cooperative. Many SPC members come from families representing multiple generations with the cooperative.

Our families of fishermen strive to serve your family with the highest quality seafood available.

fishing families
Grace Clifton, SPC Member in Training

 

Over 70 years ago, a group of Alaskan halibut fishermen realized that the best way to ensure that their products were delivered with quality was to process their own fish. They formed what would become North America’s oldest and most successful fishermen’s cooperative. Fishing families representing generations with SPC have prospered by being members of the cooperative and bringing naturally wild seafood to our customers.

 

The Eliason represent 3 generations of SPC members.
The Eliason represent 3 generations of SPC members.
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Line-caught salmon, the craft beer of seafood

Lance Preston, who trolls on the F/V Seaboy, a classic wooden troller, is a Seafood Producers Cooperative board member with a passion for premium-quality salmon and our fishermen’s cooperative. Here he is in own words describing why being a member of SPC is so important to him and why you get a quality fish from Seafood Producers Cooperative.

Lancestill
Lance Preston, Seafood Producers Cooperative member. Click here for his story on line-caught salmon from SPC.

 

Seafood Producers Cooperative is owned by the fishermen, so it’s our organization. As fishermen, we are responsible for the quality and we take great pride in what we do. Owned by fishermen, we have the opportunity to stress quality.

We produce the best Alaskan seafood that you can get. Only a small percentage of Alaskan salmon are caught by trollers using hook and line methods. It’s a boutique fishery. As Lance says, “Like your micro-brews, we’re a micr0-fishery.” Line-caught salmon, the craft beer of seafood. Fish come on board One Fish At A Time. We catch the premier species–king salmon and coho salmon. “White table cloth material.” Fish are landed on deck, pressure-bled using a micro-pipette, gutted, and iced within a half-hour. In contrast, a net-caught salmon might spend hours on deck before being handled.

At the end of the day, a co-op fish comes from fishermen who take pride in quality, because they own the organization.

Lance puts it elegantly: “I get to produce a quality product that is sustainably harvested in a well-manged fishery and belong to a cooperative that is taking care of us and we’re all taking care of each other. We’re all part of it. We are owners of the entire organization cooperatively. No one’s being exploited. We’re making a decent living. And I get to go fishing. What guy doesn’t like to go fishing?”

 

Lance-thumbsup
Thumbs up. Lance Preston on being a member/owner of Seafood Producers Cooperative.

 

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Cleaning Cohos by the Dozen by Jana Suchy

Cleaning Cohos by the Dozen by Jana Suchy originally appeared in Fishing for a Living in Alaska’s Southeast and is a story the author let us borrow to illustrate the fishermen’s life. Jana’s new book, Alaska Fishing Gold Rush of the 1980s, will be released on February 7, 2015. 

Women fishing
Jana Suchy , the author, in the fish hold of the Gambler.

 

We were still tied to the pilings under the ice chute—iced and grubbed and fueled and all ready to fish—but Dick still wasn’t sure which way to go. Only seven days left to salmon troll for silvers in Southeast until the 10-day coho closure on August 15. Time was wasting.

Although it was getting late in the season, the traditional fall runs up north didn’t seem to be coming in yet. A large fleet stood by up there from Cross Sound to Yakutat waiting for the smash to happen. Radio reports from friends coded only spotty fish scores.

Maybe the coho would hit tomorrow. Maybe not. Maybe they would come in to the south, somewhere along Baranof Island from Sitka down to its terminus at Cape Ommaney. It was a full day’s charge on outside waters either to the north or south, and if we missed the fish there was precious little time to run around and find them.

But fishing’s always a gamble, and the two of us were, after all, fishing on the F/V Gambler. So when I asked the skipper if he wanted to flip a coin, he just shrugged and said why not. SeawardGridGambler

“O.K., Dick, you call it in the air,” as I dug in my pocket for coin.

The nickel twirled. “Heads, south.”

That’s how a nickel sent me to college. I had this last week to make the money I needed to go to Montana for the winter for some graduate study in journalism so I could migrate off deck to write about life on deck—and we got down to the cape just in time for the hot bite.

Dick Curran fished alone a lot. He didn’t need me onboard, and I knew it. But trolling Alaska’s long summer days alone is hard and tricky work—steering the boat, running gear, staying on the drag, catching and cleaning fish, dodging the fleet, cooking or grabbing what food you can, and at day’s late end, icing the salmon or pulling up to a buying scow to off-load them fresh-caught. I talked the reluctant loner into taking me along, and I aimed to make it worth his while.

Especially since I started out on all the wrong feet. When first helping him tie up the boat—still trying to convince him of the merits in hiring me—I managed somehow to confuse my port and starboard. Call it dumb luck. Call it a few too many beers. I call it just plain dumb and embarrassing.

After crewing out a few seasons on several boats I had grown rather particular myself. At 30, and a woman, I could no longer endure the rigors of crewing out just as a job. I loved fishing for the lifestyle, and the people, and the experience, and the ocean—these things are what made all the hard work rewarding.

Troll-caught salmon
Dick Curran bringing in another coho salmon in Alaska’s Southeast.

I had known Dick for a while and wanted to fish with him, but he had lost his boat the Mira the autumn before when it rolled over suddenly. He got out with only his life and swam to a nearby shore in November’s chill waters. But to hear it from this soft-spoken man of few words it was no great feat. That’s the kind of guy Dick is.

So while catching a shower and doing laundry at the fish plant, fresh from a trip on another boat, with delighted surprise I found him unloading his catch from the leased Gambler. I was ready to work hard doing whatever needed to be done, even though I’d recently quit a boat earlier in the season, disappointed to discover the skipper ran all the gear and caught all the fish. But Dick gave no orders, said I could do whatever I want. This was at first rather unnerving. I was used to asking a skipper how they wanted things done, adapting to their system and following their quirks. But Dick’s only reply to my every question was the same, “However you want to do it.”

We started to catch some fish. A few at first, but when we approached Wooden Island off the cape the cohos started hitting hard. I believe in efficiency of movement. Dick knew his stern, running gear and landing fish with ease and style. Me, I found it rather awkward on this boat, especially in a stiff chop, a matter of being short on a high stern with only short gaff hooks aboard. I’d have to wait until we came down off the crest to reach a fish with the short gaff hooks, so I offered to forego the gear to clean cohos and humpies at the hatch.

I never had such a great time cleaning fish before. As the checkers filled with fat silver salmon I took to throwing a dozen at a time to the hatch cover for easy counting and fast cleaning.

Dozen after dozen. We were in ‘em. Nothing like a sharp knife and a flat surface at a comfortable height to gill and gut fish without begrudging the task. I found the fish-cleaning tray terribly slow and inefficient in mass production, and was happy to adapt to this system at the Gambler’s roomy hatch. Feet apart, braced against the boat’s roll and gritted teeth chomping-down on toothpicks, I often migrated around the hatch to follow the sun or hide from the wind as we trolled this way and that.

All the while I was happy to hear tunes coming out of the cranked-up tape deck. Some boats and skippers aren’t rigged for music on deck, but I always said I could do most anything for 18 hours a day if I had good tunes to listen to. Even clean fish. So every once in awhile I would rinse the blood from my blue rubber gloves and go into the wheelhouse to flip Willie Nelson or Bob Dylan over, scan the horizon for approaching boats, maybe adjust the autopilot.

For several days we had fish scores well over a hundred, not even including the humpies. The fleet had grown as the news spread of a bite. The buying scow and tenders in the Port Alexander harbor were picking up good loads and bringing them back to Sitka, so there’s sure to be talk. Mysterious codes crackled the airwaves to share the good fortune with buddies.

We could hear reports on the VHF and CB radios of a “green yellow,” or a “D F G,” telling the decoder of daily fish scores, location, and sometimes even depth and the color spoon to use. No matter how isolated or secret a bite, somehow the word always leaks out and specks dotting the horizon multiply like so many flies. And this was no exception: looking buglike at a distance, the mosquito fleet appeared in a swarm.

Codes get pretty involved sometimes, and sometimes they even backfire. I heard later of a report on the single-sideband radio transmitting all the way up north that the fishing down here was “pretty slow.” Apparently there was great distinction between pretty, real, and kinda’ slow; pretty, real and kinda’ dead, and so on, any of which could have meant a daily fish score from one to 400.

The reception that day was poor and very broken. My friend told me later that the misheard news of “kinda’ slow” spread through the fleet up north like wildfire. Even though Ommaney was a full two-day run with only a few days left of the opening, the mistaken hot report of 300 fish a day and thousands of dollars to be made flashed brightly next to the disappointing scratch up there. It was said half in jest that the sound of anchors could be heard coming up all throughout the harbor. By the time the horizon at Cape Ommaney was thick with flies the fish scores in the hundreds had dropped to a third. Can’t chase yesterday’s bite—fish have tails—and fishing got kinda’ slow, all right.

We anchored out every night close to the drag instead of wasting daylight to run the extra distance to tie to Port Alexander’s dock. The temptation to socialize with friends would have robbed me of sleep, and I was grateful the shorter days of August had finally brought five or six hours of night.

We ate well too, three squares a day. I’m a scratch cook and don’t mind doing extra galley duty during a lull in deck work. Having acquired the knack for boat recipes, I often combine ingredients for a meal to cook itself while I’m working out on deck. Spices come aboard with my raingear and survival suit, and I’d been packing around a four-ounce box of wild rice for several seasons now. This trip it finally met its match—a pair of Cornish game hens with wild rice and mushroom stuffing. A rare treat at 11 p.m., finally at anchor after another long day.

Early in the morning until very late at night the Gambler trolled back and forth, from Breakfast Rock out past Wooden Island and back again, threading through the fleet trolling back and forth on the drag. One day a thick, gray fog rolled in and quietly engulfed the boats. It was eerie. The drag was thick with trolling poles gliding in and out of view, often so close we could hear their music or yell a hello.

With the boat on autopilot Dick and I would both stay busy on deck. But now another troller could suddenly emerge from the gray curtain directly in our path, and it made for quick and frequent leaps up forward to adjust our course. As the fog bank slowly moved on we sometimes trolled out of it to find sparkling blue skies, but eventually had to turn back to let the dense cloud swallow us again.

It was during a sunny spell on a crystal blue ocean that I saw the whale. I first caught sight of a humpback skimming the surface and coming our way. I should have taken this as a sign of things to come and grabbed my camera, but I was busy and my gloved hands bloody. Sure enough, it appeared again, this time maybe 25 feet off our port bow. I could see the rubbery blow-hole in motion with its breath. The whale dove with a graceful arch of its back, the huge flukes flipping skyward to dwarf all life aboard our troller. The giant, barnacle-encrusted tail slipped slowly beneath the water much like the setting sun upon the horizon. This brief moment made my day. One awed gasp sparked an 18-hour stretch of gilling and gutting and icing, and made me smile. Besides, you often have to choose between experiencing something or capturing it—where you really only see it in the photo like everybody else.

As the closure drew near a weird weather pattern developed. A stiff wind cut a swath down the west coast of Baranof Island, whipping the water and bringing a solid stream of white fog with it. But as soon as we trolled back toward Wooden Island and into the lee behind Baranof the wind stopped, the sun shined, the ocean flattened. It was downright pleasant—unusually warm. With the solid band of white weather plainly visible flowing past Wooden Island in the distance I’d take off my hot raingear and strip down a few layers of wool. Inevitably we’d venture back out to test the fishing and the weather, the sudden fury of the wind and the waves and the spray sending me back into a hooded, layered bundle.

Two or three times a day I would jump down the hatch into the fish hold to ice a heaping pile of silvers. I usually enjoy icing, seizing the opportunity to work up a sweat and get a workout chopping binfuls of melted-down ice back into fine flakes with a scoop and shovel. I call it aerobic icing—little else can be done on a small fishing boat that’s aerobic.

But this hold seemed cavernous to what I was used to, and we filled it full with ice. The first batch of fish I iced by snaking up forward on my belly, reaching back for a fish and placing it down several feet over the bin board on the layer of bed ice at the bottom of the empty bin. With these acrobatics in the narrow space I would fill a layer with fish in sardine fashion, then set to icing. With nowhere to move, I started chopping a hole close to my face, eyes squinted to the flying chunks. Scoop by scoop I’d lean way down with both hands, body draped over the bin boards, one hand to open the salmon belly and the other to toss in some ice—resisting the tendency to tumble into the bin with the roll of the boat. It got easier as the bin filled with layers of iced fish and came up closer to my level perched on top of the ice, even easier once I had a small hole chopped out I could crouch in. Sometimes the body folds in the fishhold in ways I never thought possible.

Once Dick kept landing so many fish I stayed busy cleaning cohos by the dozen without stopping to ice until I had quite a pile down there. Over 100 fish, about half a ton. I had a pounding headache this day, and after a short while chopping ice I felt dizzy and sick. I needed some air—the hatch cover’s kept closed to keep the hold cool—and decided to go topside to clean a few more fish until I felt better.

The Gambler’s hatch cover is huge and heavy. I couldn’t lift it with all my might from down below, so after a futile struggle I stood and yelled for help. Dick must have seen the hatch cover jump a few times from back in the cockpit, because before I could finish my plea he lifted and shoved the cover forward, the wood edge smacking me in the head. If I thought I was dizzy and had a headache before, I felt really great now. Needless to say, I made sure to jump down for a manageable 50 from then on and didn’t wait for a mountain of fish to pile up.

Troll-caught salmon
Dick Curran and trolling gear.

The bite died and fishing slowed to a dribble the last day before the closure. The sun was shining in Chatham but the nasty blow still streamed down the coast. We’d have to buck it all the way home to Sitka to offload. Even hardcore Dick called it an early day around 6, and I was happy for his decision to spend the night in Port Alexander to visit friends.

The tiny dock was packed with a forest of trolling poles. We finally had a chance to compare scores with the boats I’d watched pass by, reading their names but not hollering hello to those I knew. After all, I jumped on the Gambler mid-season so no one knew I was aboard and I figured they wouldn’t recognize who was hollering at them.

As soon as I hit the dock and saw a familiar face it started, a chorus of surprise:

“So that was you on the Gambler with Dick.”

“I thought that was you, but Greg said, ‘No, that’s not Jana.’”

“We heard there was a woman fishing with Dick but we couldn’t figure out who it was.”
“I figured it was you. Chuck said it was a guy, but I looked through the binoculars and saw you sitting on the bucket, and when you stood up so fast I told Chuck, ‘No, that’s gotta be a woman. No guy is gonna finish his business on the bucket so fast.”

I had to laugh. Even later after I got back home to Sitka I heard the same curious controversy had swept the fleet way up north. And when I mentioned the boat to a bartender at the Pioneer Bar she said, “So you’re the girl who was fishing with Dick.”

August 15 dawned bright and sunny in P.A. Cohos were closed, the morning sparkled. Coffee flowed freely as fishermen gathered ‘round, laughing and talking. A closure is a good time to catch up. But we had a long, 10–12-hour charge up the outside, and when we finally pulled away the Sokol and Sea Wife joined us for the trip home.

It was a bumpy ride. I felt pretty good and wanted to cook a special Mexican breakfast, even borrowed an egg from Chuck at the dock to have enough. With the last of the food I prepared a feast of refried beans, eggs, potatoes and tortillas, with plenty of avocado and hot sauce. But the oil stove kept going out with the wind blowing down the pipe. It took forever to cook, and every time we slammed into a swell the pans threatened to fly. I jammed sea-rails all around in a careful pattern to keep the coffee pot and frying pans penned in, but taking a good one over the bow finally launched the potatoes onto the galley floor. Oh, well. Comes with the territory.

During the long charge up the coast we took turns reading an old TIME I had stashed, exchanged wheelwatch, each caught a nap, scrubbed down the deck and the galley. At dusk we finally rode into town, the buildings and mountains of beautiful Sitka a welcome sight.

We lucked out and without delay pulled under a hoist at the fish plant to fill bucket after bucket with silver salmon. I had counted 632 cohos while cleaning them by the dozen, and except for one slip of the knife and a couple that came out of the water scarred they were all graded No. 1 quality.

“Nice fish,” the grader said. Made me feel as good as the fat fish check.

And that’s how a nickel sent me to college, a journalism graduate student—so I could write about fishing.

 

Cleaning Cohos by the Dozen by Jana Suchy originally appeared in Fishing for a Living in Alaska’s Southeast and is a story the author let us borrow to illustrate the fishermen’s life. Jana’s new book, Alaska Fishing Gold Rush of the 1980s, will be released on February 7, 2015.  

© Jana M. Suchy 2013FishBkCover_lorez

 

 

 

 

 

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A More Perfect Gravlax

Gravlax made with wild Alaskan coho salmon
Gravlax made with wild Alaskan salmon. Photo courtesy of Alaska Seafood.

Gravlax is a Nordic dish that dates back to the Middle Ages when fishermen would salt and slightly ferment their salmon by burying it in the sand. Grav was an old word meaning to dig, which now means to cure, and lax is salmon.

Mild and delicate, wild coho salmon makes some of the best Gravlax. Using our wild coho salmon fillets, let’s make the perfect Gravlax.

  • 1 Alaska Gold Coho Salmon fillet (~1.5 to 2.25 pounds)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2/3 cup fine-grained salt
  • 1 tablespoon freshly-ground pepper
  • 2 bunches fresh dill, fronds and stems, coarsely chopped
  • 2 tablespoon vodka
  • 3 lemons, sliced into thin rings

PREPARE THE SALMON
Remove the salmon’s pin-bones and cut the fillet into two equal halves. Combine the sugar, salt and pepper. Lay your two salmon pieces on a very large sheet of plastic wrap skin- side down. Cover every bit of salmon flesh with the salt/ sugar/pepper mixture.

In a bowl, toss the chopped dill with the vodka and spread mixture over the top of both fillets.

Layer one piece of salmon with all of the lemon slices–it is important to lay the lemon ON TOP of the dill so that the lemon is not in direct contact with the fillets.

Flip the fillet without lemon slices on top of the other piece so that the lemon slices are surrounded by dill. You should have a gravlax curing sandwich that goes a little something like this: Salmon skin, salmon fillet, salt/sugar/pepper, drunk dill, lemon slices, more drunk dill, salt/sugar/pepper, salmon fillet, salmon skin. Tightly wrap the gravlax twice in plastic wrap and place the bundle in a flat pan with raised edges. A baking dish is great for this. Put a weight on top of the gravlax. I find that a small plastic cutting board with a big can on top works well.

Place the entire set up into the refrigerator. Every 8-12 hours the gravlax needs to be flipped and the liquid that will magically appear in the baking dish needs to be drained. Do this for at least 48 hours, 72 hours if you can stand the wait, flipping and draining morning and night.

When you are ready to eat, unwrap the gravlax and discard the dill/lemon mush. Rinse the fillets to remove any surface salt and sugar. Pat them dry and slice thin at an angle. Wrap and refrigerate anything that you don’t immediately devour.

Use a very sharp knife to thinly slice.

A Perfect Gravlax. Serve with a mustard sauce on bagels for breakfast or with rye bread and some sparkling wine for an appetizer.

This recipe was inspired by a post on Eat Retreat’s website and originally came from Anna Barr Larsen of Siren Fish Co.