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Why Swap Meat for Seafood…

Wild Alaska seafood is a venerable powerhouse source of nutrients and is of the highest quality of lean proteins. Alaska seafood is a complete and highly digestible protein, which means that the amino acids are readily absorbed by the body. Low in saturated fat, high in heart protective monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, Alaska seafood also boasts a complete array of essential amino acids, which help repair and rebuild muscles, making seafood a great meal for athletes recovering from a workout.

While being relatively low in calories, Alaska seafood is high in vitamin D. Did you know that 41% of adults in the United States are deficient in Vitamin D? Six-ounce portions of our wild salmon and sablefish  contain 90% of the recommended daily intake of vitamin D. Vitamin D has numerous health benefits to our lives and particularly those of us in northern climes do not get nearly enough of it. Alaska seafood, particularly wild salmon and black cod, contain plentiful Vitamin D and all of the wonders this vitamin brings for our bodies. In addition to strengthening teeth, bones and our immune systems, vitamin D can help curb depression, maintains good blood pressure, and acts as an antioxidant removing the damaging free radicals that are produced in our cells from vigorous exercise.

Nutritional Benefits of Alaska Seafood with ballet dancer Misty Copeland
Misty Copeland. Ballet Dancer. Photo courtesy of Alaska Seafood.

Alaska seafood is naturally high in essential vitamins E, A and C and also a good source of potassium, which is an important electrolyte that maintains fluid balance in the body as well as being responsible for proper muscle contraction and transmitting nerve impulses.

Just about the only way to get the Omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA recommended by health specialists for heart and brain health is by eating fatty fish from cold waters. Our Alaska Gold Wild Salmon, Sablefish, and Albacore Tuna are some of the fish with the highest concentrations of Omega-3 fatty acids that exist. These fatty acids reduce inflammation and increase heart and brain health.

DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid) is an important nutrient that inhibits aggregation of blood platelets, making it difficult for blood clots to form and thereby enhancing blood flow. The Omega-3 fatty acid DHA is also an important nutrient for generating brain cells and function for learning, especially in the early brain and nerve development of infants, but is also thought to help prevent dementia in elderly people.

EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid) thins the blood and is effective against LDL (bad) cholesterol. Most importantly, EPA maintains blood and blood vessel health. EPA can help prevent stroke, heart attack, hardening of the arteries, and other coronary diseases.

Seafood is also easier to cook than other proteins. It does not require the cook times that other meats do, for example, and if it’s of great quality, like our Alaska Gold Seafood, it requires minimal seasonings. Pull one of our coho salmon portions out of the freezer, put it in the fridge for 24 hours, then in the oven at 425 F for 6-8 minutes with a few basic seasonings.

Or try our Easy Salmon on sale through the end of June, 2018. Try these Easy Salmon Recipes made by our customers.

 

 

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On Being Wild

This Thursday we celebrate Wild Whatcom with a benefit dinner at Bellingham eatery and gathering place Ciao Thyme. Wild Whatcom is a local organization that helps kids become healthy, engaged citizens who care about the earth and relish the outdoors, rebuilding a connection to the natural world and instilling an ethic of service to the community.

Wild Whatcom works on the premise that children who participate in the outdoor educational programs they lead have stronger self-esteem and sense of purpose and deeper commitments to stewardship.

Being wild is also who we are as Alaska Gold Seafood. Our wild seafood and our fishermen whose lives are inextricably linked to nature and wildness are the essence of who we are as an organization. Fishing is still one of those last refuges where you can be about as close as possible, at least in this day and age, to nature and a free and wild existence that truly demands just about everything.

One of our fishermen even wrote a book on being wild. Theo Grutter, may he rest in peace after his 40 + years of being part of our fishermen-owned co-op, wrote  Thinking Wild, a collection of 115 short essays, written in a poetic voice that bears his soul. Born in Switzerland, Theo was educated and destined to be a corporate banker but gave it all up to go fishing. Theo fished alone wild and free in the waters surrounding Baranof Island his small boat the Onyx for halibut and black cod. He would bicycle around Sitka and take a week to fast and sit in the trees of the Tongass Forest for a week at a time and meditate on what it means to be wild.

wild seafood
Theo Grutter, on his beautiful small boat the Onyx

 

What is wild? These are the thoughts of a fisherman who spent a lot of time out fishing not alone, but in the company of some of the richest life on the planet: the whales, puffins, and fish in the waters around Southeast Alaska.

One can feel a tremendous amount of energy surrounding Theo as he excited talks about black cod, which he calls “the premier fish caught one kilometer below the surface of the sea.”

From his essay “Thank you, Oceans and Forests, you are a hundred sisters and brothers to me”:

Did you ever wonder why the cormorants never build shrimp farms? Why the pigeons never invented cornfields? Why a whale does not wear a tie? Good question. […] Out here on the ocean I am beyond prudence, politeness, and shame. In this grand immensity, wisdom can run free to do its very vast things like fertilizing my deeper mind.

Theo’s book, Thinking Wild, is not just a fisherman’s meditations on wildness but thoughts on making peace with oneself and how we all live in this world. Here is an excerpt from his essay “The ocean experience”:

Just now leaving the angry open sea behind, white rollers still on my heels. My boat, the Onyx, runs me on autopilot through Sergius Narrows bucking a five-knot tidal current, the Chrysler-Nissan purring like a bee. Hoonah Sound lies ahead. The quietness of six hundred square miles of inside water awaits me, with the Tongass National Forest surrounding the scene. I will set there and tomorrow pull my long line gear for halibut the same way a Kalahari woman smoothly dib-dabs, jar balancing on her head, back from the well. What we love to do turns into rhymes and becomes beautiful.

Through Theo and through our deep relationship with nature, we celebrate being wild. We celebrate the wild. Fishing is still one of those last refuges where you can be about as close as possible, at least in this day and age, to nature and a free and wild existence that truly demands just about everything.

Serving you with pride,

The Folks at Alaska Gold Seafood

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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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Why Frozen Seafood is the Best Choice…

 

Frozen Salmon
Here’s a picture from a customer of what our coho salmon portions look like right out of the box. Included is enough dry ice to keep the order frozen until arrival.

It’s 2018 and we still get questions about whether frozen fish is as good as never-been-frozen fish. Here’s how we respond…Firstly, it’s all about the fish. The care that our fishermen put into each fish on their boats—cleaning it, stowing it quickly on ice—has a much greater impact on the quality of a fish than at what point in time the fish was caught. Blast freezing locks all the nutrients in, and stops all the biological processes in time, making a fish caught any time as good as it was when pulled out of the water.

In addition, frozen seafood is better for the environment than never-been-frozen fish. Easier to transport, freezing fish also reduces waste. 23% of the never-been-frozen fish in supermarkets goes to waste because it can’t be used in time.

This convenience for transport and storage is good for the retailer, the home consumer, and the fishermen. As Seafood Producers Cooperative fisherman Linda Behnken points out in this video made by our partners Alaskans Own, frozen seafood is also safer for fishermen because they “can pick their weather.”

But what’s really important is that frozen seafood—whether it’s our wild salmon, halibut, black cod, albacore tuna, or spot prawns—is better for you the consumer… because of the taste!

In a blind taste test, consumers were asked to compare flash frozen seafood and never-been-frozen seafood. Across all categories, flash-frozen seafood was rated as either more appealing or statistically the same as never-been-frozen fish. We’re biased, because frozen seafood is what we sell through our website, for a variety of reasons, including convenience. But it’s also important to note the improved taste!

It’s all about starting with a high-quality fish, like an Alaskan wild salmon, treating it with care, freezing it quickly, and keeping it cold until it’s time to cook. Chef  and seafood educator Barton Seaver notes that frozen seafood “is a major win for sustainability. It decreases waste and takes advantage of seasonal bounty to spread its availability throughout the year. From the introduction of micro-misting to more powerful and rapid deep-freeze technologies at lower temperatures, the process has really turned frozen product . . . into a means to capture pristine quality.”.

See a bit more about what happens behind-the-scenes at Seafood Producers Cooperative when we freeze fish for shipment to you our customers in this video filmed at our plant in Sitka, Alaska. We also include a fair amount of details in this blog post and frozen and fresh seafood.

flash-frozen-seafood

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What’s so special about Alaska Gold Halibut?

pan-seared halibut
Pan-seared halibut

What’s so special about Alaska Gold Halibut?

Simply put, what’s special about halibut is their luscious flake, which is delicate but meaty. Its snow white meat and naturally sweet, delicate flavor and firm texture that retains its shape with any cooking style makes it the world’s premium white-fleshed fish, making it wildly popular with all kinds of chefs. Halibut is not unlike a white-colored steak, which makes them widely popular. And our Alaska Gold Halibut are caught by a fishermen-owned co-op whose quality comes from integrity, a pride in being fishermen-owned for more than 70 years. In addition, Alaska Halibut are managed for sustainability.

Our Alaska Gold halibut are caught by fishermen like Dick Curran, the Humble Highliner, who have an incredibly close connection to the special waters where our fish come from.

Halibut are delicious cooked in a variety of ways–this pan-seared halibut recipe is just one of an endless number of possibilities for halibut.

Halibut are as flat as a board and they spend a good portion of their lives roaming the ocean floor. What’s really wild and unusual about halibut is that they are born with eyes on each side of their head–however, after six months their left eye migrates to join the right eye on their “dark side,” giving halibut two eyes on the same side of their heads. Their top side or “dark side” with two eyes is a dark green-ish to brown-ish color to match the color of the ocean floor. This color camouflages them from predators like sharks and orcas (killer whales) who also enjoy the taste of a fine halibut. If they leave the ocean floor to migrate, for example, their bottom side is a snowy white and a predator looking up will have trouble distinguishing the halibut if the sun is shining above them through the water.

Pacific halibut (Hippoglossus stenolepis) are a type of flounder. Hippoglossus means “horse tongue,” which refers to the halibut’s large mouth and tongue. Stenolepis means narrow scale and refers to the halibut’s almost invisible scales.

There are Atlantic halibut, too. However, they are on the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program’s “Avoid” list because the Atlantic halibut stock is depleted. In contrast, Pacific Halibut coming from Alaska is recommended and on the Seafood Watch’s “Recommended List,” as its certified by the Marine Stewardship Council. The Pacific halibut stocks are healthy and carefully managed. Since they are fish that cross international borders between Canada and the United States in their migrations, in 1923 the International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) was formed. The IPHC was the first international treaty in the world established with the purpose of protecting a marine resource. Biologists from both countries work together to understand the lives and migration patterns of the halibut in order to preserve the halibut for future generations. The IPHC has been able to maintain a stable fishery and prevent stock and environmental problems that have caused problems in other parts of the world. Fisheries scientists around the world look at the IPHC as a model of good fishery management.

During the summer, halibut feed on the continental shelf, but then migrate to deeper waters during the winter, spawning somewhere on the continental slope along the way .

In Southeast Alaska, the Tlingits harvested halibut during spring and this rich bounty from the sea made the Tlingits one of the richest societies in human history with nourishing foods and meaningful arts. Traditional Tlingit halibut hooks consist of two pieces of wood, usually alder and cedar, lashed together at an angle of roughly 30 degrees with split spruce root. They used a rock as an anchor and fished in canoes up and down the coasts of what we now call Alaska and British Columbia.

Halibut in Tlingit native art style
A “Healing Halibut” in the Tlingit art style spotted at the Fred Hutch Cancer Center in Seattle.

The long lines used today, though operated on somewhat bigger boats with diesel power, work with principles that aren’t that different than those used by the Tlingits. Typically, long liners use an anchor and buoy to spread long lines baited with salmon, squid or herring on a “ganion.” After 12 hours or so of “soaking” the lines on the bottom of the ocean, the captain finds the buoy and the fishing crews haul up the lines and the halibut using what the fishermen call a gurdy, which is a hydraulically powered winch used to pull up the heavy lines. 

Pacific Halibut
A herd of halibut migrating.

Male halibut can reach 100 pounds but females can weigh upwards of 500 pounds. Bigger fish mean more eggs. A 50-pounder lays about 500,000 eggs. A 250-pounder can lay 4 million eggs. Large halibut are called “barn doors,” because they’re flat and large and you can imagine what it’s like to haul them up from the bottom of the ocean–hard work! When they’re smaller they eat shrimp and small crabs. Then they move on to octopus, squid and other fish.

Alaska Halibut
The crew of the F/V Sword with a very large halibut on the co-op’s docks in Sitka, Alaska.

Halibut are particularly important to the history of our fishermen-owned cooperative, which was formed by fishermen who processed halibut in vitamin A. This was in the time before vitamin A was synthesized.  Up until 1980, Seafood Producers Cooperative was the Halibut Producers Cooperative. The name changed to more accurately reflect the other fish being caught (particularly wild salmon and black cod), but halibut has always been the backbone of this organization.

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A lot of the information from this blog post is shared in a beautifully illustrated, kid-friendly book Pacific Halibut: Flat or Fiction?

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The Salmon Forest

 

Wild salmon returning to spawn
Salmon vigorously returning to their birthplace to spawn. These are pinks returning to Indian River which runs right through Sitka.

During late summer and early fall in Southeast Alaska, rivers are full of salmon returning to spawn. And these wild salmon are precisely the reason behind all of the other life that comes out to play during the Alaskan summer. Amy Gulick, in Salmon in the Trees, notes that 137 species in the Tongass Rain Forest of Southeast Alaska depend on wild salmon. Particularly dependent on the Tongass are the wild coho salmon that run up the thousands of small creeks that stream through virgin old growth forest.

wild coho salmon
Thousands of wild coho salmon run up this creek at the end of summer to reach spawning grounds

Wild salmon are the fertilizer upon which an entire forest grows. As a keystone species in the Tongass Rainforest in Southeast Alaska, wild salmon bring marine nutrients inland and provide an important food resource for a variety of animals. These nutrients 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. Up to 70% of the nitrogen intake for plants and trees in the Tongass Rain Forest can be traced back to wild salmon. The trees in the forest grow, provide shade, cooling the water, making it the ideal temperature for the salmon to spawn. This full circle relationship also involves Southeast Alaskan fishermen.

Fishermen’s ways of life depend on healthy salmon runs, which also depend on these forests and the healthy watersheds that are part of forests. Our fishermen live within a “Blue Economy.” Their livelihoods depend on the ocean, which in turn depends on the forest. Salmon fishermen are some of the first to advocate for the health of the oceans and forests. They advocate for forests because the salmon need them for survival. Fishermen do not want the health of the forests disproportionately ceded to mining or logging interests, which can have long-term detrimental effects on the forests and hence the salmon runs.

It might sound counter-intuitive, but in essence protecting wild salmon by buying wild salmon from fishermen who fish in well-managed fisheries is one of the best ways to support wild salmon and the habitats in which wild salmon dwell. It’s easy to say not eating wild salmon would be better to save them, but then who would advocate for the wild salmon and these places?

Market-based solutions can be the most effective solutions to solving the problems of feeding people in an environmentally-friendly way because they bring solutions that have benefits that are sustainable both in an ecological and an economic sense. Working in partnership with other interest groups, protecting wild salmon can be good for all parties. Fisheries are the top economic driver in the Tongass National Forest. With 25-percent of the entire West Coast’s entire salmon harvest coming from the Tongass, that’s important work that fishermen do. And wild salmon, when habitats are protected and fisheries managed according to the science-first principles used by Alaska Fish and Game, can be a renewable resource from now into perpetuity.

southeast Alaska
Small islands through which salmon run in southeast Alaska.

Last November, the McDowell Group, a  market research firm with a socio-economic focus, released an economic study commissioned by the advocacy group Salmon Beyond Borders, a group of concerned fishermen in alliance with Native American and First Nations tribes from coastal southeast Alaska communities. The study considers the economic value of commercial fishing and tourism, two of the region’s key industries that depend significantly on the health of Alaskan rivers. The study found that the Taku, Stikine, and Unuk rivers generate an annual 48 million dollars in economic activity for Southeast Alaska. When considering a 30-year horizon, these watersheds are valued at just under 1 billion dollars. This economic value can in theory be generated in perpetuity through careful management of sustainable fishing. In addition, tourists come to see these last wild, pristine places in person.  

Fish, wildlife, and scenic resources are fully renewable. They also have the potential to offer greater economic value as similar resources and experiences grow more scarce. The bounty from these rivers provides thousands of jobs that contribute to the well-being of Southeast Alaskan coastal communities. And the fishermen and others who work in contact with salmon and forests take a deep interest into conserving these places for future generations. Supporting fishermen that fish using sustainable methods by buying Alaska seafood direct from a fishermen-owned co-op at Alaska Gold Seafood is part of sustaining the salmon forest.

Looking off the bow at virgin forest on the Khaz Peninsula, southeast Alaska.
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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.

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*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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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.

 

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Why Athletes Eat Seafood

wild salmon perfect protein infographic

There is no purer, more natural source of protein than wild seafood. Lean but dense with nutrients at the same time, seafood is a perfect protein for athletes.

Achieving peak form is a goal for all of us, whether we’re pro, amateur, or not even practicing athletes. And seafood should be part of all of our diets. Our wild Alaska Gold Seafood is particularly good for athletes.

Seafood helps athletes…

Recover faster

Convert protein and sugar to energy as an excellent source of vitamins B6 and B12

Augment blood flow

Reduce swelling

Maximize fat loss by lowering triglycerides

Develop focus and mind function

Maintain strong and healthy bones with its exceptionally high vitamin D content

Optimize aerobic capacity

Expand lung performance

Improve joint health

Be Happier

Here’s another huge secret: Cooking our seafood, for example our wild salmon portions, is easier than cooking other kinds of proteins. At home, we use sea salt and olive oil, serve with greens, or a pasta with pesto sauce. It’s a meal made in less than 15 minutes. Here are some tips for cooking salmon. 

In addition, our Easy Salmon, packed in one-pound bags, is so versatile for making a diverse array of recipes, perfectly packaged for a family of four or a hungry couple. It’s possible to affordably incorporate wild salmon into your meal plan. Here are a couple of customer recipes: an Easy Salmon red curry with coconut cauliflower rice or this Easy Salmon, potato and leek hash with egg recipe.

Joe Friel and Loren Cordain’s The Paleo Diet for Athletes notes that we should eat animals of the highest quality at virtually every meal. When it’s wild and as real as possible, not fed at a grain stall in a feedlot, it’s best. And wild seafood has an optimal fat, protein, and nutrient profile.

Wild seafood from colder waters, like those of Alaska, have very high concentrations of Omega-3 fatty acids. We know Omega-3 fatty acids are good for the heart–they’re associated with a significant reduction in coronary artery diseases. In addition, Omega-3s from marine sources (i.e., wild seafood) are more easily absorbed and digestible than other sources.

Wild seafood has the ideal ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids. Most nutritionists agree that people should target a 2:1 ratio of Omega-6s to Omega-3s. But, for most Americans, that ratio is closer to 10:1. (Non-grass fed) red and/or processed meats, junk foods, and certain oils are too high in Omega-6 and cause the imbalance. Fish, particularly fatty fish from cold waters, like salmon and sablefish, are by far the richest source of Omega-3s. In contrast, Omega-6s are associated with inflammation, which can counteract exercise’s positive effects on insulin sensitivity and metabolic benefits, negatively impacting muscle soreness, tissue repair, and other aspects of recovery. Omega-3s improve joint health by easing joint stiffness and combating chemicals that destroy cartilage. Indeed, according to the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine, consuming Omega-3s can be effective in relieving muscle soreness induced by exercise.

Eating seafood also helps decrease triglycerides by up to 14% which increases high density lipoprotein (good) cholesterol and improves function of blood vessels, maximizing fat loss, improving lung performance by improving blood flow and therefore oxygen performance, all of which results in better recovery and improved health for athletes.

Lean animal protein lowers blood LDL (bad) cholesterol and increases HDL (good) cholesterol, and provides muscle-building branched-chain amino acids. Protein should come from lean and varied meats, making up 30% of our diet. Fat, which should predominantly be monounsaturated, is also an essential component of our diet.

A small portion of fish is perfect. Take, for example, these petite king salmon portions. 4 ounces each of heart-healthy omega-3s with 28 grams of protein to rebuild muscles and promote recovery. These wild salmon filets also may help lose body fat. The DHA in Omega-3s can reprogram genes so that carbs are broken down by body and not stored as fat. Seafood’s high concentrations of vitamins B6 and B12 helps convert protein and sugar to energy.

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All About Wild Pacific Salmon

Alaska Waters

The clear, cold, stormy waters of the Pacific Ocean off Alaska, British Columbia and Washington state are home to one of nature’s treasures and its most perfect protein…wild Pacific salmon. For millennia, wild salmon have been part of the region’s culture, traditions and way of life.

Wild salmon has been a hallmark of Northwestern cuisine for as long as there have been people here. The region’s Native Americans have celebrated the return of salmon for millennia. Nowadays, all Pacific Northwesterners experience a state of excitement when the salmon are running. The delicious meat of wild salmon sustain them throughout year with life-giving nutrients.

Without doubt, the life story of the wild salmon is one of the most poetic and legendary of the animal kingdom. Their life journey is the definition of epic. Born in freshwater streams in the Pacific Northwest, young salmon might spend up to a year before they head out to sea, where they grow to maturity. Some species might swim hundreds, if not thousands, of miles in search of high-quality protein, like herring, sand lance, capelin, squid, and small crustaceans.

 

Wild Salmon Life Cycle
Image courtesy of Alaska Seafood.

After years out to sea , they return to the river where they were born. Salmon begin “running” when they congregate at estuaries in preparation for a journey up that river or creek to find their spawning grounds. They return to the exact stream of their birth, swimming all the way up, sometimes hundreds of miles, to tiny little creeks just a foot or two deep, where they dig a redd in the gravel and spawn. And then die.

There are 5 species of Pacific salmon: king salmon (also known as Chinook or Tyee, meaning chief); Coho salmon (sometimes called silver salmon); sockeye salmon (reds); Keta Salmon (informally called chums or dogs); and pink salmon (“humpies,” short for humpback).

Salmon go through morphological changes when they re-enter freshwater, turning bright colors and growing distinctive humps on their backs and more snarling jaws. But they taste best when they’re caught on the open ocean because these changes that come in preparation for spawning give their flesh an off-flavor.

Hook and line fishermen, also known as trollers, catch salmon on the open ocean when they’re at their peak. In theory, they can and do catch all 5 species, but do not target sockeye or pinks. Sockeye are plankton eaters and do not typically eat the fish-like bait on hook and line fishermen’s gear. The bread and butter for trollers is king salmon and coho salmon, two premium species that benefit the most from the trollers’ special treatment given to each fish.

Rich and buttery, and loaded with Omega-3s,  a line-caught king salmon is truly a treat. Coho salmon are known for their mild flavor. Wild coho salmon are just a perfect all-around fish to serve with a variety of different recipes. Not as fatty as king salmon, their lightness is a virtue to many.

Wild Salmon Nutrients
Wild Salmon have loads of nutrients. Image courtesy of Alaska Seafood.

Each wild salmon is different. And place is everything. In addition to the variety of species, wild salmon will vary by run–geography, available food, river and ocean nutrients will all change the character of a salmon. Southeast Alaskan salmon are known for their stunning quality. The region is particularly abundant–the waters are teeming with life, a sort of nursery for a huge diversity of species, both marine and terrestrial. Many creatures live here-everything from orcas to grizzly bears to marbled murrelets to bald eagles to sea cucumbers to halibut. This biodiversity also includes plenty of nutrients to feed the salmon.

Salmon Trolling
Image courtesy of Alaska Seafood.

The Southeast Alaska topography is favorable for trollers, hook and line fishermen, who target wild salmon and specialize in quality because of the care they can give to each fish. Dressing the salmon when it comes on board is paramount and the first step to maintaining quality all the way to the customer. Because trolling is a slower, more artisanal fishing method, fishermen have the time to clean and dress each fish with care, keeping its quality intact. Trollers are known for the fastidious care they put into each fish.

The fishermen owners of our co-op have a particular pride in maintaining this quality all the way to the customer, which is why Alaska Gold salmon are becoming increasingly part of the vocabulary for consumers seeking premium-quality wild salmon and connoisseurs already in the know.  We suggest you try our “Fishermen’s Choice: Ivory King Salmon.” 

Poached Ivory King Salmon with greens
Poached Ivory King Salmon