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It’s not “Salmon.” It’s…

Wild King Salmon

Frequently, when you go to restaurants, menus list something like “Grilled Salmon with potatoes.”

But what kind of salmon is it? And wouldn’t you want to know?

Just as there are many different kinds of meat and a variety of ways that the meat may be raised, there are a lot of different kinds of salmon.

There are Pacific Salmon and Atlantic Salmon. Just about all the commercially available Atlantic Salmon for purchase is farmed. Farmed Atlantic Salmon comes from Norway, Chile, Scotland, Canada, and a number of other places. Note that Chile and Canada have farms on the Pacific Ocean, but they farm Atlantic Salmon there.

Then there are Pacific Salmon, and the great majority of wild Pacific salmon are harvested in the state of Alaska. There are five species of Pacific Salmon. Keeping track of their names becomes confusing because there are several names for each of the five species: King Salmon (frequently also called Chinook Salmon), Coho Salmon (commonly called Silver Salmon), Sockeye Salmon (also known as Reds), Pink Salmon (colloquially called Humpies, short for Humpback), and Keta Salmon (also called Chums). Each of these wild Pacific salmon species have different characteristics and different flavors.

Describing the flavors of all of these salmon is a subjective endeavor. A wild salmon’s flavor might vary based on a number of factors, including:

  • How the salmon was caught
  • How the salmon was handled on the boat
  • How the salmon was processed
  • What was the cold chain like between the landing the fish and ending up on a diner’s plate
  • How the salmon was prepared

Wild-caught salmon are harvested in several different ways. Typically, they are caught in either gill nets, by purse seine nets, drift nets, or by hook and line (also known as trolling). There are varying levels of cleanliness and care on fishermen’s boats and handling procedures, which will affect quality. As a general rule, most fishing boats in Alaska are small family businesses. Because of this, the small fishing boats in Alaska tend to have a deep and humble pride in the livelihoods that they are leading and the seafood that they produce.

With regard to the different catch methods, typically a line-caught salmon should be of excellent quality because the salmon is by definition caught while the salmon are actively feeding. Troll-caught salmon should be ocean-bright and therefore not going through the degradation process that occurs when a salmon returns to its native stream to spawn. Trolling is a much “slower” catch method than harvesting salmon by net. The slower process of trolling allows fishermen to put more time into taking care of each fish. The salmon are caught one hook, one fish at a time. By bleeding the salmon and gutting it once the salmon comes on board, the fishermen remove the parts of the fish that make its meat flavor taste off. There are some net fishermen that bleed and gut their salmon, too, greatly increasing the chances of producing a quality salmon. So, in general, a troll-caught or line-caught salmon is going to be the crème de la crème. Less than 2% of Alaskan salmon are line-caught, so they are indeed a special treat to be savored. Note that Alaska Gold Seafood comes from a cooperative of fishermen that primarily fish by hook and line methods, and our wild salmon is line-caught.

Of the Pacific salmon, there are king salmon. In colors ranging from orange-red to creamy white, these are the largest and least numerous of the Pacific salmon. Their big flake and succulent, rich flavor and very high oil content make them very much in demand and the most popular seafood item we sell.

A very close second is our coho salmon. Milder and more delicate, with a peachy orange color, coho salmon’s quality and flavor benefit greatly from being line-caught, as their delicate meat, prized for pairing with fine meals, is kept in pristine condition with the dedicated handling procedures practiced on trolling boats. Like  king salmon, coho salmon are rich in oils and even richer in vitamin D, while being leaner.

Another species of salmon that benefits from being line-caught is keta salmon. Most keta salmon are caught in nets as they approach streams and the end of their lives with poor meat quality, making them eventually sold in lower-end markets. In contrast, our Alaska Gold wild keta salmon are caught on hook and line and by definition they are actively feeding and at the peak of their quality. The difference in being line-caught cannot be underestimated. Our Alaska Gold keta salmon are very mild, moist, and delicious, and can be used in a variety of recipes.

Sockeye salmon is one of the more numerous Alaskan salmon. They are prized for their deep red color, firm texture and strong flavor. They are plankton eaters and so do not usually take hooks, so they are rarely caught on hook and line. At this time, we do not offer the rare line-caught sockeye salmon we catch for sale on the Alaska Gold website.

Lastly, there are pink salmon. Pink salmon, with light color and tender texture, when handled well, are a great option for canning and smoking.

Noting that only 12% of world salmon production is wild Alaskan salmon and that the vast majority of the remainder is farmed marks our Alaska Gold wild salmon as something truly unique.

In addition, recent reports have identified that a good amount of seafood sold in supermarkets and restaurants in the United States is mislabeled. A report from Time Magazine noted that 43% of salmon was mislabeled in a recent study—and 69% of that mislabeling was farmed Atlantic salmon being sold as wild.

With the potential for seafood mislabeling, it makes sense to get your seafood from a purveyor that you can trust or direct from the source. Alaska Gold seafood is your direct connection to a cooperative owned by fishermen.

There are also some very important reasons to ask for Alaska salmon rather than “salmon.” All of Alaska seafood is wild-caught. There is no finfish farming in Alaska, so that all salmon is harvested in the wild, pristine waters of Alaska. In addition, Alaska’s seafood is managed to be sustainable. Alaska the world’s most trusted source of premium quality, sustainable seafood. Alaska emulated around the world as being a pioneer of sustainable seafood. Harvest by sustainable yield is written into the state’s constitution. In other words, Alaska’s fisheries are scientifically managed so that the long-term health of the fish stocks are top priority. Harvest quotas are managed so that the grandchildren of today’s fishermen should have opportunity to fish in the same way in the future. In addition, the Alaska salmon industry supports America’s economy. As previously mentioned, the vast majority of Alaska salmon fishing boats are small American family businesses. As a whole, the Alaska seafood industry accounts for 111,800 jobs in the United States.

All salmon is nutrient-dense and contain a good amount of lean protein, heart-healthy fats, and is packed with vitamins and minerals. What remains questionable is the feed that farmed salmon are given, which can account for an increased chance of toxicity with potential higher levels of pesticides and PCBs, and antibiotics. Farmed salmon tend to have a flabby texture and flavor, as they are in general fattier, but not with the right kind of fats. Farmed salmon have varying degrees of the heart-healthy Omega-3s for which wild salmon are prized, but usually not in the same beneficial ratio to Omega-6s. This Omega-3:Omega-6 ratio truly makes wild salmon stand out.

With all this information on the variety of salmon out there, wouldn’t you want to know what kind of salmon is on the menu?

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Alaska Gold Seafood at the Food & Farm Film Fest in San Francisco

Our Seafood Producers Cooperative was recently featured at The 2018 Food & Farm Film Fest in San Francisco. We presented a film about our  producer-owned co-op, and the wild salmon our producers catch  “Tasting Wild Alaska” directed by Sitka’s Liz MacKenzie. We also enjoyed some other wonderful films that displayed the intersection of art and food.

The sold-out Roxie Theater was packed and bristling with energy. The funds raised by the Festival support Cooking Matters, a program that teaches low-income families how to shop for and cook delicious, healthy food.

Wild Alaska Salmon Video

 

Attending the festival for us was a reminder that food stories are people stories. Food and the people who produce and cook food are driven by love and passion.

We really admired James Q. Chan’s “Bloodline,” a  film about Top Chef Tu David Phu and the story behind his family’s culinary legacy, their lives as refugees from Vietnam, and how his parents taught him the secrets of fish and influenced Chef Tu to become who he is today.

Through the camera lens of filmmaker Liza Mosquito deGuia we met Tommaso Conte, chef and founder of D’Abruzzo, an award-winning New York City food vendor specializing in Abruzzese cuisine from Italy. Conte’s passion is the same passion that our seafood producers bring when they are fishing and taking the extra time and work into producing a spectacular fish for your plate.

“Great! Lakes,” a film  about a family-run small scale candy maker in Knife River, Minnesota depicts the craft of making memorable and special food by a family that stays authentic to who they are. We had some of their candy at the after-party and it was to die for.

These were just a taste of the films we saw at the festival. Going to the festival was a reminder to share more of our producers’ stories with you. Which we will. Stay tuned. And thanks for following our stories and supporting our organization.

Enjoy Thanksgiving!

The Folks at Alaska Gold Seafood

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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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Setting the Standard for Frozen Wild Seafood

Fisherman George Eliason and his multi-generational fishing family on their freezer boat.
The Eliasons represent 3 generations of SPC members.

The below technical article originally appeared in New Food Magazine and is a story about Seafood Producers Cooperative fisherman George Eliason and freezing salmon on his boat the Tammy Lin.

In Sitka, Alaska, a town of 9000 where 20% of the economy depends directly on wild salmon, there’s a well-known coffee shop decorated with images of commercial fishing. The Highliner Coffee Shop sells a coffee mug printed with a Sanskrit quote: “To judge a thing one must know the standard.” On this mug, there’s a picture of Captain George Eliason’s salmon troller the F/V Tammy Lin. The message insinuates that the Tammy Lin and Eliason’s fastidious attention to detail are the standard by which all other salmon are judged in the community. The Tammy Lin is installed with a freezer and Eliason produces frozen-at-sea salmon that once thawed in a restaurant 1000s of miles away weeks and months later, taste as if they’ve only been out of the water for an hour or so—as fresh as it gets.

The sea-frozen salmon produced on freezer boats like the Tammy Lin are a specialty product for niche buyers who know and are willing to pay a premium. This article will cover what it takes to reach that high ideal, the very pinnacle of seafood quality, the standard by which all other fish are judged. Certainly not every fisherman can achieve this standard, though George isn’t the only fisherman with an impeccable attention to detail to produce an outstanding salmon. And most customers are not able to afford the premium price demanded for this pinnacle of quality. However, as it is for any industry, we can start with the ideal of perfection and work down from there.

There are numerous resources on freezing seafood–Planning for Seafood Freezing by Edward Kolbe and Donald Kramer is one of the most extensive, well researched, and objective resources. Using Kolbe and Kramer’s principles, we’ll take a closer look at freezing seafood on a small vessel and how that helps achieve the highest standard in seafood quality.

In the seafood world, we work with a couple of basic guidelines:

1) Once a fish is pulled out of the water, a clock starts ticking and with each minute, or better stated, with each step taken, the fish has potential to lose quality. What matters more than time is care given to the fish and preservation methods.

2) Once we pull the fish out of the water, there is nothing we can do to improve the quality of the fish (assuming we don’t cover the fish’s taste with a sauce), so everything we do is to preserve its state as it came out of the water.

So, let’s say out of the water, the fish is a 10 on a scale from 1 to 10. Certainly, a fish could have a cosmetic defect like a scar made by a sea lion, or the fish might not be perceived by a buyer as a desired species or from a pristine place. For simplicity’s sake, the idea that the instant a fish comes out of the water it’s a 10 but everything that happens to it afterwards ticks off a line item on a scoring sheet, that the fish goes from being a 10 to potentially a 1.  A careless cut, not getting the fish frozen before rigor mortis, or not getting every speck of blood removed from the fish are all demerits that would lower that score.

Let’s call George Eliason and the work he does on his boat the Tammy Lin the ideal to chase, the standard by which all other seafood is judged. George fishes for wild salmon with hook and line methods (also known as trolling), which in theory produce the highest quality fish. Catching a fish on hook and line gives the fisherman time to handle each fish with the most care. Each fish is bled and dressed and handled with care. Less than 5% of Alaska salmon are caught by trollers. Only about 15 percent of the trolling fleet has a freezer installed on their boat to produce the highest quality sea-frozen salmon. And few fishermen are as fastidious as George Eliason, who lives by the motto of doing things right the first time. To my questions about why you would do it his way versus another way, George is incredulous–you cannot sacrifice quality for any reason in George’s mind. Deviating from George’s methods only seems to negatively impact quality in George’s mind. Given the grading sheets for George’s frozen-at-sea salmon deliveries, it’s difficult to argue with him on matters pertaining to seafood quality. George delivers an extraordinarily high percentage of “perfect 10s,” which in the traditional seafood world are graded as “Number Ones.”

Fisherman captain George Eliason at the helm of his freezer boat.
George Eliason at the helm.

Trollers that have freezers on their boats have two distinct motivations when they decide to install a freezer on their boat as opposed to carrying ice: 1) they get on average a 20-30 % premium price for their fish versus that from an ice boat; and 2) they can extend their fishing trips to as long as 21 days. A troller keeping the fish cold with only ice must find a place to deliver fish within 3-4 days at most. They must either return to town to deliver fish to a processor or find a tender boat where the fisherman can deliver fish and stock up on ice. Having the freedom to keep fishing for 21 days saves time and money on trips back to town and opens up new territory to explore for fishing. Given the reduction in trips back and forth between town, on average a boat with a freezer can spend two more weeks fishing per season than an ice boat, which means more fish and more money for the fisherman, with or without the premium paid for sea-frozen salmon.

Here’s how that freezer works. The Tammy Lin has a 25kW genset, which runs a 25 horsepower engine, whose motor runs a compressor that keeps the air temperature in the Tammy Lin’s freezer at close to -48℉ (-44℃). This cold air brings the core temperature of the fish in the Tammy Lin’s hold to as cold as -37℉ (-38℃) within about 6 hours. Other fishermen might be content with -20℉ -(29℃). But George wonders why. Everything George aims to do is to get the fish as cold as possible and as quickly as possible. The ideal is to preserve the fish in a frozen state before it reaches rigor mortis. Cleaned and pressure bled with a pipette, the fish caught on a freezer boat are put in the freezer hold while the fish’s heart is still beating on the deck of the boat Physiologically speaking, time stops. Any of the fish’s flesh breakdown halts at this point, including key enzymatic processes that occur at a cellular level which affect texture and taste. The fish literally becomes frozen in time within hours, much faster than any fish sold in most fresh market situations can reach its customers.

In the hold of a frozen at sea boat
“Awful cold down here at 40 below,” say the deck hands.

The Tammy Lin has a 17,000-pound capacity hold and once it’s filled George can return to town to deliver the fish. George estimates that the freezer burns a gallon of diesel per hour, but of course gets more efficient with more fish in the hold, as the ambient temperature lowers.

George has a “custom” set-up. A fisherman could also get a “drop-in” freezer set-up from a company like Integrated Marine Systems (IMS) out of Seattle, Washington. IMS manufactures and helps install freezers for fishing vessels.

A critical point is having an extremely well insulated hold. Fishermen adding freezers to their boats with poorly insulated holds not only run less efficiently, but cause frost build-up and their fish won’t reach those colder temperatures as quickly, sacrificing quality. The Tammy Lin is so well insulated that, with no air leaks, defrosting the hold causes the hatch to pop open.

For salmon trollers, blast freezers blowing freezing wind at 10 knots over trays of frozen fish, are the preferred freezing system, but for some fishermen seeking albacore tuna, a number prefer the brine system with a mix of frozen seawater. A shrimp fisherman will use a plate freezer. It must be said that there are a number of schools of thought, as scientists at the Oregon State University’s Seafood Lab have studied. Edward Kolbe, Cormac Craven, Gil Sylvia and Michael Morrissey’s “Chilling and Freezing Guidelines to Maintain Onboard Quality and Safety of Albacore Tuna”  runs through the pros and cons of each freezing method and the most critical principles to consider when running a freezer on a tuna fishing vessel.

The guiding principle, as it is with frozen-at-sea salmon, is getting the fish as cold as possible and as quickly as possible. In the case of tuna, which little does the average public know is a warm-blooded creature, their body temperature coming out of the water might be as high as 80℉ (27℃) at the core. Having a deck tank with chilled sea water helps ensure that the fish gets cold (ideally to 40℉) as quickly as possible before putting it in the freezer, which minimizes temperature fluctuation in the hold, reduces freezer energy load, and improves flesh quality. Maintaining colder temperatures minimizes autolytic degradation that can cause histamine build-up in a warmer water fish like tuna. Warm fish bring ambient heat, impeding the freezer’s efficiency and its ability to keep all fish in the hold as cold as possible. This chill rate will depend also on fish size, ambient air temperature or the water temperature in a deck tank and a “rapid rate” depends on the eye of the beholder. The heat transfer coefficient will affect freezing time and an appropriate catch rate should be determined for the vessel’s freezing system and hold. The initial freezing point of a fish will depend on its moisture content but is typically around 28 to 30℉. Freezing too slow causes dehydration, increased enzyme activity, decreasing the quality of the fish and causing spoilage, and protein denaturation, meaning that muscle proteins have unraveled from their coiled state, decreasing their ability to hold water molecules. Upon thawing, the water drains away as drip loss.

As noted above, once the fish is harvested there is no way to improve its quality, but you can slow down the rate of quality deterioration by properly handling the fish on board, freezing it quickly, and storing the fish at a temperature that does not fluctuate. This is the ideal for frozen seafood—the proverbial “perfect 10.”

There are a number of technical barriers to entry to a salmon fisherman installing a freezer on his or her boat. Firstly, some fishermen don’t want to stay out the 21 days that the freezer allows. Those fishermen forgo the premium dock price because there is certainly a romance to not having to hear a generator run all night. George “sleeps with one eye open” while fishing, so the noise of a generator running all night doesn’t bother him. In addition, George hired an extra hand when he installed the freezer because of the extra steps required. The Tammy Lin runs a crew of 3, including the captain. The extra hand makes the “big days” of 400 fish much more do-able. And some freezer boat  fishermen have noted that there are 18 distinct steps one must take with the fish before putting it into the hold. An average to good day of 100 fish or so is manageable without the extra help, but boats that run only a crew of two can end up sacrificing quality or end up burning themselves out working a succession of 20-hour work days, which would be the norm in an Alaska summer salmon season. George’s deckhands work quickly and carefully, cutting heads off, making belly incisions, gutting the fish, pressure bleeding it with a pipette, and carefully stowing it on aluminum trays, using a batch system to make it goes as efficiently as possible. In addition to cleaning and pressure bleeding with a pipette pre-rigor, George has at least three hoses running, cleaning the deck.

Once a fisherman installs a freezer on their boat, they have to become licensed as a “direct marketing fisherman,” and their boat essentially becomes a “portable processor” with a HACCP plan and paperwork to fill out 4 to 6 times a day. George notes numbers of fish caught, parts per million in the bleach solutions, where they dumped their head, etc. As a processor, George needs to have a tarp over his deck, his processing area, whereas ice fishermen can work with the sun (or other elements) above them.  Having to comply with regulations from the Department of Environmental Conservation and even Homeland Security becomes part of the workday for a direct marketing fisherman producing a frozen-at-sea product. More taxes to pay and regular inspections also become a concern.

Other little details matter, too. George says he goes through a lot more knives on his freezer boat, as the extra steps require more cutting. An ice boat will leave town with a few thousand pounds of ice that serves as a stabilizing ballast. George added some rolling stabilizers to help his freezer boat when leaving town with an empty hold. Each light in the freezer hold needs to be covered, should it be bumped and broken it will not contaminate the fish with broken glass. He puts a 6% seawater glaze on his fish and maintains a bleach solution in which fish are dipped.

Probably the biggest, somewhat unspoken barrier to entry to installing a freezer onto a small fishing vessel, is finding a market for a fish of that quality. Restaurants rarely have a space to thaw out a frozen-at-sea fish and might only take a few fish at a time. Fewer chefs have the ability to break down a whole fish. Nevertheless, when put to blind taste tests with fresh-never-frozen salmon, a frozen-at-sea salmon is going to be as good as a fish that has just been pulled out of the water. You also get the added benefit of more efficient, hassle-free transportation once it’s frozen, and a lot longer shelf life. It’s a “perfect 10” when done right. The troll-caught frozen-at-sea wild salmon is a standard by which all other seafood is judged. Reaching that standard isn’t for the feint of heart.

*******

*Note: George Eliason is retiring this year. “After 50+ years on the ocean, why not get off? I’ve pretty much seen and done all that I wanted.” George’s attention to detail will be passed on to future generations.

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Why wild? Why Alaska?—– Wild Alaska Salmon

Salmon returning to Indian River in downtown Sitka, Alaska.

“The bears, eagles, and trees here in Southeast are the salmon […] These forests are where the ocean comes to die–and to be reborn.”

The Salmon in the Trees by Amy Gulick

If you’ve ever been to Southeast Alaska in the late summer, you know that it’s just teeming with life. Bears are out. Birds are flocking to the skies. Whale spouts aren’t difficult to spot. Snow-capped mountains, endless bays and inlets fill the landscape. The rivers are full of salmon returning to spawn. And these salmon are precisely the reason behind all of the other life that comes out to play during the Alaska summer.

The salmon are the fertilizer upon which all other things grow. As a keystone species in the Tongass Rainforest in Southeast Alaska, salmon bring marine nutrients inland and provide an important food resource for a variety of animals. They also increase the productivity of nearby plants and forests. Mammals from mice to grizzly bears feast on spawning salmon. So do bald eagles and ravens, as do many other birds.Birds and mammals fly off with or drag carcasses into surrounding forests, bringing marine-derived nutrients for the forests around salmon-bearing streams, which tend to be much healthier when salmon are present. 137 species in the Tongass Rainforest depend on wild salmon!

Wild Alaska salmon is the canary in the coal mine for the entire region. Wild salmon is the pulse of places like the Tongass Rain Forest in Southeast Alaska. And eating wild salmon caught by small boat fishermen from Southeast Alaska supports these coastal communities and ecosystems. 

 

Brown Bear.
Brown Bear.

Salmon, like other wild seafood, is the last commercially available wild meat. Watching a salmon jump up a ten-foot waterfall illustrates the wildness that’s part of us. It’s the pure joy. Pure life in its most elemental form. When we eat this wild salmon, we’re being infused with this wild energy. That is the essence of wild Alaska salmon. 

Despite thriving salmon fisheries in Alaska that could easily feed the entirety of the nation and then some, more than three-quarters of it is exported. We, as Americans, are not getting our recommended 2-3 heart-healthy seafood servings per week, while Alaska is literally the wild seafood breadbasket of the world. The good stuff literally swims away.   

Humpback whale tale.
Humpback whale tale. Photo by EmmaFrisch.com
Wild Southeast Alaska.
Wild Southeast Alaska.
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Baked Coho Salmon with Tamari Peach Salsa Recipe

Coho Salmon with Peach Salsa
Baked Coho Salmon with Tamari Peach Salsa Recipe. Photo by Food Network Star top finalist Emma Frisch at emmafrisch.com.

 

Here’s a Baked Coho Salmon with Tamari Peach Salsa Recipe from our friend and Food Network Star Top Finalist, Emma Frisch. For more recipes, visit her blog at emmafrisch.com. Emma lives in Ithaca, New York, where she is the Co-Founder and Culinary Director of Firelight Camps, an elevated camping experience.

Emma spent some time with us at the Sitka Seafood Festival and on fisherman Charlie Wilber‘s boat and learned about what is unique about what our hook and line fishermen do in getting salmon from the sea to our customer’s homes and she shares her stories along with the recipe in her post.

Baked Coho Salmon with Tamari Peach Salsa Recipe

Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 12 minutes
Yield: 8-10 portions
Ingredients:
1 Alaska Gold™ Coho Salmon Fillet 
Peach – 1, diced into 1/4-inch cubes (sub with 10 oz. peach jam)
Tamari sauce – 2 tablespoons (sub with soy sauce)
Brown rice vinegar – 2 teaspoons (sub with lemon juice)
Pickled ginger – 1 teaspoon minced (or sub with fresh ginger)
Garlic – 1 clove, minced
Jalapeño (optional) – 1/2 teaspoon minced
Sea salt – 1/4 teaspoon
Black pepper – To taste
Instructions:
1. Remove the Coho Salmon Fillet from the freezer in advance, with enough time to defrost in the
refrigeration for 24-36 hours. Remove and let it sit at room temperature for an hour. Wipe dry with
a paper towel.
2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with foil and place the Coho
Salmon Fillet on top.
3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the diced peach, tamari sauce, brown rice vinegar, pickled
ginger, garlic, jalapeño, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
4. Pour the tamari peach salsa over the fillet.
5. Bake the fillet for 10-12 minutes, until the flesh begins to flake and the thickest part of the salmon
is pink inside.
6. Remove the fillet from the oven and let it rest for a few minutes before serving.

Fisherman Charlie Wilber with chef Emma Frisch. Photo by EmmaFrisch.com.
Fisherman Charlie Wilber with chef Emma Frisch. Photo by EmmaFrisch.com.

 

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What’s the difference between king salmon and coho salmon?

Cooking king salmon and coho salmon.
Cooking king salmon and coho salmon.

Most people consider king salmon, also known as Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha), the finest of the wild Pacific salmon. King salmon is known for its high content of healthy omega-3 oils and its big taste. A decadent item to feature at a white tablecloth, candlelit dinner, king salmon is about as good as it gets.

With less fatty oils than the king salmon, the coho salmon, also known as silver salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch),  has a lighter taste, which can be a virtue depending on what you’re preparing with the salmon. The coho salmon has a lot of other virtues, too. It’s milder tasting than a king salmon, which may appeal to some. Coho salmon also certainly pairs well with sauces. Many people find the coho salmon more versatile in cooking, making it possible to serve in a wider variety of ways. The coho salmon is also more of an any-day kind of dinner.

Both our wild Alaskan king salmon and coho salmon are available for home delivery here.

wild salmon
A whole king salmon and a whole coho salmon with their fillets.

 

 

Wild salmon fillets and portions
King salmon fillets (left) and coho salmon fillets (right) with portions below.

Looking at the nutritional values, we can see that the king salmon is much richer, while the coho salmon’s virtue is its lightness.

Coho salmon: (3-ounce serving) 120 calories; Protein 19 g; Fat: 4 g; Saturated Fat 1g; Sodium 50mg; Cholesterol 48 mg; 680 mg Omega-3 Fatty Acids per 100 g serving

King Salmon:  (3-ounce serving) 200 Calories; Protein 21 g; Fat 12g; Saturated Fat 3g; Sodium 55mg; Cholesterol 75mg; 1300 mg Omega-3 Fatty Acids per 100 g serving

Though king salmon tend to be significantly larger than  coho salmon, its runs aren’t nearly as numerous. Because of the high demand for king salmon and the lower amount available, it is priced higher than the coho salmon. Compare pricing by checking out our offerings here for king salmon and coho salmon.

A 10-pound box of king salmon or a 10-pound box of coho salmon measures 15 x 10 x 6″. Our coho portions come in individually vacuum-sealed packages with six ounces net weight of coho salmon, while our king salmon comes in four and eight-ounce packages. We also have 6-portion boxes for both species, in addition to 10-portion boxes for the king salmon and 14 portion boxes for coho.  We have larger quantities of our wild salmon for restaurants and group buyers. We also sell coho salmon and king salmon fillets, which are the entire side of a fish. The size of one coho salmon fillet is roughly 18″ x 6″ x 0.5″ and they typically weigh between 1 and 2 pounds.

Wild salmon
King salmon and coho salmon with knife.
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Planked Alaska Salmon with Sunny Chipotle Rub Recipe

Alaska salmon
Planked Alaska salmon with sunny chipotle rub. Photo courtesy of Alaska Seafood.

Try this Planked Alaska Salmon with Sunny Chipotle Rub Recipe to spice up your your weeknight dinner routine. Alaska salmon is a healthy, sustainable choice for a protein that will nourish your family.

Ingredients

2 to 3 Tablespoons white vinegar

4 Alaska Gold™ coho salmon portions

2 Tablespoons packed brown sugar

2 Tablespoons fresh chopped garlic

1 Tablespoon chopped Chipotle chiles*

 

Instructions

Soak wood plank in water for one hour or overnight.

Sprinkle vinegar onto Alaska Salmon (1 teaspoon per individual portion or 2 tablespoons per salmon side).  Blend remaining ingredients.

Pat wood plank with paper towels and spray-coat or lightly oil one side.  Lay salmon on coated side of plank; spread 1 to 2 teaspoons rub mixture onto each salmon portion (not skin) or apply all of the rub to salmon side.  Let the salmon rest 5 minutes before cooking.

Heat grill to medium-high heat.  Grill salmon using indirect heat (not directly over heat) in covered grill for 10 to 15 minutes.  Cook just until salmon is opaque throughout.

*Canned chiles in adobo sauce.  Remove seeds, if desired, to reduce heat.

Chef’s Tip: This recipe works great whether you use a plank or cook straight on the grill.  Or, bake at 400°F (6 to 7 inches from heat source) for 10 to 15 minutes

 

 

 

 

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Wild Salmon, Nature’s Perfect Protein

wild salmon health benefits infographic

Wild Salmon, Nature’s Perfect Protein

With abundant, sustainably managed runs in Alaska, wild salmon not only taste great but are loaded with healthy benefits that are life enhancing. Wild salmon are nature’s way of offering us a way to improve our health and wellbeing.  Delicious and rich in omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins A and D, B-complex vitamins, selenium, zinc, potassium, and iron, wild salmon represents a high-quality lean meat. It is nature’s perfect protein.

We have known for years that the Omega-3 fatty acids that salmon are known for are an essential nutrient and an integral part of every cell membrane in our bodies, creating healthier cells that reduce chronic diseases. Recent studies show that Omega-3s offer benefits for the heart, mind, and joints. A recent study by a Mayo Clinic team completed a study with 732,000 subjects that participants with higher intakes of Omega-3s had an 18 percent average drop in coronary heart disease. There are increasing studies revealing how important the Omega-3s in wild seafood are for heart health. All these studies recommend eating fish 2 times a week. The power of wild seafood and Omega 3s is not about solving a disease but about long-term benefits for our health.

We can even add cancer prevention and skin-protection  to the list of health benefits conferred by omega-3 fatty acids! Omega-3s are called “essential fatty acids” because they are essential for body functions. Our bodies cannot make these types of fats on their own, so that is why nature provides us with fatty fish like salmon. (While wild and farmed salmon have comparable levels of omega-3s, farmed salmon is generally much higher in omega-6 fats typically found in the vegetable oils used in home kitchens and in almost all take-out, prepared, and packaged foods. Most Americans eat way too many Omega-6 fatty acids and don’t get enough Omega-3s for the optimal balance.)

KPFilet&PortionsCool
Alaska Gold king salmon.

Fish, especially salmon, really is brain food. Omega-3s have been associated with improved “mental health” status, including a reduction in depression, anxiety, bipolar disease, dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease. It may be surprising to learn that the human brain is mostly composed of fat.  Fats, along with water, are the main components of brain cell membranes and nerves. Omega-3 fatty acids are types of fats that are involved with brain development in infants and with maintaining healthy brain function in adults. We know that populations with the highest fish consumption, such as Japan, Finland and Greenland, have the lowest rates of depression.  It’s possible that Omega-3 intake is a contributor. One study showed that a diet lacking in omega-3 fatty acids may cause the brain to age faster and lose some memory and thinking capabilities.  People with lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their red blood cells had lower brain volumes. These findings and associations add to previous observations regarding the lower risk of brain abnormalities in persons eating fish like salmon three times a week.

There is also emerging research that shows that seafood such as salmon might also play a role in cancer prevention. This is not surprising because omega-3 fatty acids have powerful anti-inflammatory properties and we know that cancer starts as inflamed tissue.

The anti-inflammatory properties of omega-3 fatty acids also make them an effective alternative and supplement to the non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs typically given to arthritis patients. Most national and international arthritis associations now recommend the use of fatty fish such as salmon for the treatment of arthritic pain.

When we’re stressed, our anxiety hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, spike. “The omega-3 fatty acids in salmon have anti-inflammatory properties that may help counteract the negative effects of stress hormones,” says Lisa Cimperman, RD, of the University Hospitals Case Medical Center and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. In a study at Oregon State University funded by the National Institutes of Health, students who took omega-3 supplements had a 20% reduction in anxiety compared to the group given placebo pills.

One 3-ounce serving of cooked wild salmon can have more than 2,000 milligrams of omega-3s, double the daily intake recommended by the American Heart Association for people with heart disease.

Nutrients less frequently talked about in conjunction with salmon are vitamin D, iron, and zinc.  Seafood is one of the few naturally-rich food sources of vitamin D, a fat-soluble vitamin involved in calcium metabolism and bone health and responsible for repair and maintenance of the body…a huge task!  Additionally, vitamin D helps to regulate cell growth, decrease inflammation, and maintain healthy immune function.  Some of the richest seafood sources for this vitamin are fatty fish like salmon. Besides sunlight, salmon is one of the few natural sources of vitamin D. Salmon, along with whale and walrus flesh/fat and polar bear livers, most likely provided our sun-deprived northern populations with much needed vitamin D for centuries!

In addition to Vitamin D and Omega-3 fatty acids, there is increasing knowledge on the  health benefits of a little known compound that makes salmon red:  astaxanthins (pronounced “asta-ZAN-thins).  This naturally occurring carotenoid is found in algae, shrimp, lobster, and crab, but is by far richest in salmon. This compound is produced by certain kinds of algae. Small crustaceans eat this astaxanthin rich algae and then are eaten by wild Pacific/Alaskan salmon, thereby passing on the nutritious color pigments and thus causing the red-orange hue in the fish. For salmon, scientists believe that astaxanthin may help provide the endurance that spawning salmon need to swim upstream for hundreds of miles, leaping and jumping all along the way. For humans, astaxanthin is a powerful antioxidant with broad health implications. Wild salmon are the richest human food source of astaxanthin by far. It is important to note that wild salmon have four times higher astaxanthin content than farmed salmon and contain natural astaxanthin instead of synthetic astaxanthin.  Natural astaxanthin is proving to have much more health benefits than synthetic.

In conclusion, salmon offers the heft of a steak but a lot more health benefits. Wild salmon runs in Alaska are plentiful, sustainably managed for future generations to fish the same way we are fishing now. When you get wild Alaskan salmon, you are supporting an American industry. When you get wild salmon from Alaska Gold Seafood, you are supporting a cooperative of quality-oriented family businesses that has had a relentless commitment to quality since 1944.

 

Author Cindy Brinn, RD
Author Cindy Brinn is a nutrition specialist.

A lot of this information was compiled and originally written by Cindy Brinn MPH, RD, CDE, BC-ADM, our health and nutrition expert. She practiced over ten years as a clinical dietitian specializing in nutrition support at large regional hospitals and small community hospitals.  In 1995 she started her career in behavior change and the application of modern nutrition therapy and diabetes management in an outpatient setting.  A well respected and sought after speaker, Cindy lectures frequently at local and regional conferences on food choices and chronic disease prevention and treatment.  Attendees describe her talks as “dynamic, inspiring and personally very applicable” Cindy’s many certifications include Registered and Certified Dietitian, Certified Diabetes Educator, and Board Certified Advanced Diabetes Management.  She established and manages the ADA recognized Nutrition & Diabetes Education Clinic at St. Joseph Medical Center in Bellingham, WA and continues to make professional presentations throughout the country.