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Celebrate the people behind our Alaska Gold Seafood

Dear Alaska Gold customers,

Food has always been a human story. Food brings people together. We share community and fellowship with those we love by breaking bread with them. Food is sacred. It’s what we put in our bodies and gives us life. In the case of Seafood Producers Cooperative, producers put their hearts and souls into bringing a pure, wild, minimally processed protein to people who want to enjoy quality ingredients. The people behind this food work hard, each bringing their unique style and background to their craft. 

The fishermen-owners of Seafood Producers Cooperative are a collective of optimists and some of the last producers of a pure, unadulterated wild protein produced using traditional fishing methods on this planet. We are courageous, free-spirited and independent but also community-minded. Because anybody who has ever fished for a living knows that there will come a moment when you will have to depend on your peers, your fellow fleet members, and your community for help. Our producer-owners are Alaskans. They’re also New Yorkers who hitchhike to Alaska looking for adventure but end up staying because they can’t imagine any other way to live. We are independent-minded. Many of us are highly opinionated. But some of us are also soft-spoken, humble because we’ve been humbled by nature. Some of us were school teachers who, looking for summer income, got hooked and stayed in Alaska to fish. Some of us were executives for Wall Street banks or Silicon Valley start-ups who ditched those lives to go fishing. For some, fishing for a living is all we know and all we’’ll ever know.

Meet some of our producers below. And don’t forget that our Diamond anniversary coupon expires Friday May 31st at midnight PST. Use the following coupon code for $75 off on orders over $300: akgolddiamondanniversary

Thank you for being part of our history,

The Producer-owners of Seafood Producers Cooperative, whose products are available for home delivery at AlaskaGoldBrand.com.

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Summer 2019 Frozen Seafood Shipping Schedule for Holiday Weeks

Holidays will drastically change our shipping schedule, so please plan ahead and carefully read below if you’re wondering when to expect your frozen seafood order. Note: We will be closed Monday, September 2nd to observe the Labor Day Holiday. We expect to experience exceptionally high shipping volume on the Tuesday after Labor Day. We will do our best to ship all orders on the Tuesday following Labor Day. However, we will contact you if we think we may need to hold any regular 1-2 day ground shipments for shipping on Wednesday.

Also, note that orders placed during the week prior to Labor Day (August 26th-30th) will be affected by potential delays. Orders placed on Tuesday August 27th after 9:45am CST shipping to addresses in the 3-day shipping zone (see map below) will ship out the week after Labor Day. Orders placed on Wednesday August 28th after 9:45am CST shipping to addresses in the 2-day shipping zone (see map below) will ship out the week after Labor Day. Orders placed on Thursay August 29th after 9:45am CST shipping to addresses in the 1-day shipping zone (see map below) will ship out the week after Labor Day.

As always, please contact us before ordering if you need an order by a specific date. There is a possibility we can shepherd an order through to get there in time, but note we will be available only on a limited basis.

We hang our hats on quality and service. We are not Amazon and we recognize that we are not going to win the speediest seafood shipping award, but if you need an order by a specific date, please contact us and we can at least do our best to shepherd that order to you in time. But the best thing to do is always plan ahead.

Frozen seafood shipping transit map for



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Celebrating the special place where we work

Place is an essential element of our Alaska Gold Seafood story. And at 3 points in our Co-op’s 75-year history the special place where we operate has forever altered who we are as a fishermen-owned co-op. To celebrate our 75-year anniversary, we’d like to share those stories of place here:

  1. In 1952, several Co-op fishermen began pioneering fishing spots on the Fairweather Grounds. Fishing at the Grounds opened the Co-op up to some very productive fishing grounds in some of the wildest country on the planet.
  2. The 1964 Good Friday earthquake and subsequent tsunami destroyed just about everything that the Co-op had in the region, leaving the Co-op in an existential crisis.
  3. The building of our fishermen-owned Sitka plant satisfied our Co-op’s over-riding concern for maintaining a top-qualityproduct from ocean to market.

….

The Fairweather Grounds

In 1952, Toivo Andersen in his boat the Greta, Oscar Vienola in the Anna Marie, and Arthur Vienola in the Belle J pioneered salmon trolling in the Fairweather Grounds. Fairweather Grounds is a misnomer, as the grounds are known for being rich with life but surrounded by deep, unforgiving waters and open ocean. Ferocious winds and choppy waves hit where the continental shelf rises toward the surface of the ocean, creating hazardous conditions for the small fishing vessels that operate there.

To navigate, the original Fairweather fishermen used compasses, fathometers, and radio direction finders that enabled them to take bearings on each other. When their fathometers indicated they were in fifty fathoms, they would find themselves on the edge of the shelf, the most productive waters, and they would let go a halibut anchor with buoy line and flagpole attached so that they could orient themselves and find it again. After discovering how rich the grounds were for fish, these pioneering fishermen would bring a new innovation that had been a “secret weapon” during the final days of World War II, the Loran (Long Range Navigation). Loran required skill and tinkering, but gave these fishermen a better chance of finding their best spots. As it became easier to find the shelf, other boats began following these Fairweather fishermen out to the Fairweather Grounds. All these fishermen risked and continue to risk rough seas in one of the wildest corners on the planet.

On the coast near the Fairweather Grounds, Lituya Bay has been a refuge for salmon and halibut fishermen during storms and it has a fascinating history documented well in one of our late fishermen Francis Caldwell’s Land of the Ocean Mists. Entrance to Lituya Bay can be made provided the tide is flooding and outside swell conditions are not causing the bar to break. Judging the current is key. At high tide the entrance is about 1,000 feet wide, but at low water it is reduced by shallow banks of sand and gravel to 600 feet. If a heavy swell is breaking, the entrance is then reduced to about 150 feet between breakers. The tremendous volume of water that flows into and out of the bay every 6 hours is forced through this narrow entrance, producing, at times, 12-knot currents.

Following a 1958 earthquake that registered 8.3 on the Richter scale, a massive tsunami wave shot water up 1720 feet up a ridge pulling all of massive trees and glacial boulders off the surrounding valley out of the bay, the scars of which are still visible. Three fishing vessels were anchored for the night when this massive wave, the largest wave in recorded history, came crashing upon them. Two boats and their fishermen were lost to sea. Another fishermen, Howard Ulrich on the F/V Edrie, rode out the wave, watching the eerie sight of tree tops snapping below his boat, and his frantic mayday was heard by the fleet in areas surrounding.

1958 Lituya Bay article

For days after the events of the July 9, 1958 earthquake the fishing fleet in the area was demoralized. Many could not shake the melancholy feeling that they could easily have been anchored in the bay at the time of the giant wave. And after considerable meditation, a few fishermen resolved never again to anchor in Lituya Bay. The fact remains, today as in 1958, that if one is going to fish the Fairweather Grounds sooner or later one will be forced into Lituya Bay by a blow. The fisherman is then subject to the mathematical odds that there will be another giant wave.

The Loran with the Fairweather Range in the Background.
The Loran captained by John Murray with the Fairweather Range in the background. The Loran was lost in an accident at sea in 2005. Murray survived and is now the captain of the Seabear.

The Good Friday Disaster

In 1962, the Co-op installed a freezer capable of handling halibut and salmon in Seward, Alaska. Production, prices and ownership numbers were at record highs for the Co-op, but nobody could have foreseen the upcoming disaster. On Good Friday, 1964, an earthquake that measured 8.6 on the Richter scale struck Alaska. The shaking lasted four long, terrible minutes and the epicenter was very near the Co-op plant in Seward. Massive submarine slides started 30 seconds after the quake hit and generated enormous seismic waves. All plant employees had fortunately gone home for supper, but the plant, which stood on a dock overhanging the water, was completely destroyed. Not a board left! Divers, hired to search the wreckage, only found a hole where the plant stood!! The entire Seward waterfront disappeared and the new shoreline was 300 feet inland from its pre-quake tide line.

As an “act of God” disaster, nothing could be recovered from insurance. The plant, however, did have flood insurance on a boiler. The Co-op thought it obvious that that the boiler washed away in a “flood,” but the insurance company had other thoughts. It was ruled that the Co-op wasn’t entitled to a single cent. In addition to a total loss, the Co-op now had to pay considerable attorney fees in their lost suit. One important caveat to being a fishermen-owned business: With ownership comes inherent risk that the fishermen bear, although this risk is borne across a cooperative of owners in our case. In a history of our Co-op published in 1980 by fishermen Francis and Donna Caldwell, The Ebb and The Flood, this chapter ends with a bitter but realistic note that says it all about fishing:

“To lose something, a 50-pound trolling lead today, an anchor tomorrow, once in a while a boat, or even a life, is common in the [fishing] industry. The sea gives, the sea takes away.”

During this time and in subsequent years, there was much discussion of dissolving the Co-op. But the courage of the board of directors at that time to keep the Co-op alive and solvent stands as a keystone in the history of the Co-op.

………….

The Sitka Plant

With the Good Friday Disaster in the backs of their minds, the Co-op’s Board of Directors proceeded with caution to build the fishermen-owned plant in Sitka, with construction beginning in November 1979. At the heart of the Co-op’s decision to forge ahead with the Sitka plant was its overriding concern for maintaining a top-quality product from ocean to market.

Sitka was chosen because of its proximity to salmon trolling grounds like the waters of Cape Edgecumbe and the edge of the continental shelf, waters rich with halibut and sablefish. Big overhead came out of fishermen-owners’ settlements and there was great discussion about how to allocate the costs of building the plant fairly to all owners. Nonetheless, there were 95 Co-op owner resignations in 1981 and 120 in 1983, as the Co-op was losing money to fund the plant. It took extraordinary sacrifice to realize this dream of having a fishermen-owned plant, and those fishermen with the courage to stick with the Co-op helped keep alive a ruggedly independent organization owned by and for fishermen with tremendous pride in the products they produce. This pride is at the core of who we are.

I recently spoke with Lee Krause, Board President at the time that the plant was built, and he noted that it was a busy time with architects and builders coming to Sitka to make the plant a reality. “I was in over my head. All I could tell them was I wanted cold ice. Our main concern in that time was to have our own plant that could take good care of us, where we could get cold ice, so we could produce quality fish.” Lee’s humble statement sums up just about the entire history of our Co-op: service for West Coast fishermen and a relentless commitment to quality.

Seafood Producers Cooperative plant in Sitka, Alaska
The fishermen-owned Seafood Producers Cooperative plant in Sitka, Alaska on a rare sunny say.

On this date in 1944, the legal contract for the formation of our fishermen-owned Co-op was signed. Celebrate with us. Use the following coupon code at checkout for $75 off orders over $300:

AKGoldDiamondAnniversary

Expires May 31st, 2019.

Thank you for being part of our history,

The Producer-owners of Seafood Producers Cooperative, whose products are available for home delivery at AlaskaGoldBrand.com.

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The Formation of our Fishermen-owned Co-op

On May 12th, 1944 the legal contract for the formation of our fishermen-owned co-op was signed. This May we’re going to celebrate our diamond anniversary by giving you our customers $75 off orders of $300 or more.

During this month, we’ll share with you the history of our co-op in several stories, starting today with the story of how West Coast fishermen would band together to form our Seafood Producers Cooperative. Thanks to the courage of these original pioneers in 1944, we are here today and you can purchase our fish for home delivery at www.alaskagoldbrand.com. Thank you for being part of our history!

The fishermen-owners of Seafood Producers Cooperative are some of the last producers of a pure, unadulterated wild protein caught using traditional fishing methods on this planet. And our co-op has been instrumental in preserving this unique way of life.

Primary producers of real food, particularly fishermen, have had a long history of being taken advantage of. Fishermen’s guilds started popping up well over 2000 years ago in the effort to protect fishermen from the whims of nature and markets. It is certainly possible that Jesus’s disciples formed part of a fishermen’s guild of a similar sort on the Sea of Galilee. All of these guilds and co-ops were formed with the intent to protect fishermen, but few have had the staying power of our co-op, which has been around for 75 years serving as a bulwark of the West coast fishing community because of a laser focus on quality products and service and serving the fishermen.

More than a way for fishermen to take control of the profits from their catch, our Co-op became a community in which fishermen banded together in order to make their own destinies.

It’s difficult to gauge the wake that our Co-op spurred on the West Coast fishing industry. Before our Co-op existed, fishermen had limited markets for their products. There were plenty of strikes among fishermen in southeast Alaska. Since our Co-op’s inception, there have not been any fishermen strikes in southeast Alaska. What our Co-op brought was a plant that the fishermen would eventually own themselves and the opportunity for fishermen to get more consistently fair prices. In other words, our Co-op became a way for fishermen to earn a living wage for their hard work of producing beautiful fish.

Our Co-op is an organization owned by fishermen, for fishermen. And it allows fishermen to wield their own future. If you speak with any fishermen-owners about why they joined our Co-op or why they’re fishermen, you will undoubtedly hear that they like being their own boss and being the captains of their own destinies. A co-op that the fishermen own with a fishermen board of directors made up of their peers that makes the tough decisions on setting our Co-op’s direction has made it possible for these fishermen to live their ruggedly independent lifestyle their own way.

Since its inception, producers have kept our Co-op alive with a rugged “share the pain, share the gain” mindset. With a sales office in Bellingham, Washington and most fishing operations taking place in southeast Alaska, our Co-op has deep roots in the Pacific Northwest, but there is something quintessentially American about our Co-op, which allows fishermen to be the captains of their own destinies. And that’s what makes our Co-op keep on keeping on.

Halibut Producers Cooperative Logo

When the co-op formed in 1944, it was the Halibut Liver Oil Producers Cooperative in the days before vitamin A was synthesized and was one of the largest producers of vitamin A in the nation. It later became the Halibut Producers Co-operative. In 1982, the Halibut Producers Cooperative Board of Directors voted to change the co-op’s name to Seafood Producers Cooperative to more accurately reflect the fish that the fishermen were catching and selling, as line-caught king salmon and coho salmon became the bulk of production

The growth of our Co-op has been filled with many learning moments. As an organization owned by ruggedly independent producers who make a living on the ocean, it is somewhere between extremely difficult and impossible to make all content. But when we as fishermen return from a long, difficult fishing trip out on the edge and pull into our plant in Sitka, it is our plant waiting to receive our fish. One of the reasons that our Co-op has survived and flourished is our strict adherence to Rochdale’s Seven Principles, which give direction to cooperative organizations. The other reason that our Co-op has flourished is that we have not lost sight of our quality-focused mission.

Quality is the keystone of our Co-op. This tradition of quality began with the very first fishermen’s annual meeting taking place in 1944. An expert was brought in to speak at length on how to improve quality. To this day quality is a pervasive theme in all meetings of the fishermen Board of Directors. Quality is so important to who we are because our organization is built on the pride we have in producing our fish for our company. But our co-op’s reputation built on quality doesn’t derive from just bleeding and icing fish correctly to produce the freshest quality fish, but also having a relationship based on integrity and transparency with our customers.

We really hope that you the enjoy the fruits of our co-op’s labor—you can order our seafood online for home delivery at www.AlaskaGoldBrand.com. Stay tuned this month for more stories on our co-op, including a story on the special place where we fish, and the stories of the actual producers that form part of our co-op, and more. Also, celebrate with us. Take $75 off an order of $300 or more of our Alaska Gold Seafood.

Use coupon code: AKGoldDiamondAnniversary

Expires May 31st, 2019.

Thank you,

The Producer-owners of Seafood Producers Cooperative, whose products are available for home delivery at www.AlaskaGoldBrand.com

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What is the definition of Sustainable Seafood? And how our Alaska Gold salmon is the pinnacle of proteins

Salmon Run View From Above.
Salmon Run View From Above. Photo Courtesy of Alaska Seafood

Nature, by nature, produces excess. Cut open a tomato and see how many seeds there are. Somewhere between none of these seeds and all these seeds will become a future tomato, depending on the level of desire, care and knowledge of the gardener. Beekeepers know that bees store vast excess quantities of honey to feed themselves through winter. Knowledgeable beekeepers take enough honey to satisfy their honey needs for a year but leave enough honey in the hive for the bees to sustain themselves through winter. Thereby the bees can get a good head start in spring on another season of gathering pollen and nectar, so that they can continue to produce honey for the beekeeper for the following winter.

Seafood and, most emblematically, wild salmon work in a similar way. If managed correctly, wild salmon runs produce excess and can feed us into perpetuity. Nature produces excess so that we can harvest salmon each and every season for as long as we like. That is, once again, if managed correctly by human beings, and there are plenty of examples around the world where wild salmon populations haven’t been managed well.

But the state of Alaska has written into its constitution to harvest by the sustainable yield principle, which establishes the baseline for the excess to be harvested. As a result, Wild Alaskan Salmon populations have consistently been abundant. All told, Alaska supplies more than half of the wild-caught seafood in the United States. And Alaska will always be home to the greatest salmon runs in the world, providing around 95 percent of North America’s wild salmon. All finfish from Alaska are sustainably harvested and wild by law. There is no finfish farming in Alaska, so you can count on all species from Alaska being wild caught, natural, and sustainable.

Chefs and consumers alike struggle to know what is and isn’t sustainable when it comes to seafood. There are various certifications, watch lists, and environmental group lists. It’s hard to know who to trust. In Alaska, we continue to focus on just how long our fisheries have been sustainable. Globally, Alaska is viewed as the gold standard in responsible fisheries management. As a result of the state’s commitment to sustainability, and rigorous fisheries management, no Alaska seafood species has ever been listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

In addition to being a sustainable protein that renews itself every year, Alaska salmon is packed with omega-3s, vitamin D, iron, zinc, astaxanthins, and selenium, a remarkably nutrient-dense protein. Alaska salmon is real food made by and for real people. One of the least understood aspects of the Alaska fishermen with whom we work is their deep appreciation of the environment within which they work and their extraordinary commitment to keeping their livelihoods sustainable and the habitats within which they work wild and pristine.

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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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Get hooked on our Alaska Gold Seafood Loyalty Program

Alaska Gold Seafood Sampler Subscription

“We’re hooked.” It’s amazing how often we hear those words from our Alaska Gold Club members.

Alaska Gold Club members get a regular shipment of our hook and line-caught wild seafood, making it the most convenient way to get ultra-high quality, nutritious wild Alaskan seafood into their lives and make a routine of healthy eating.

Start the new year right and get hooked with a $30 off coupon to start our Alaska Gold Club Loyalty Program.*

Use coupon code**: 2018NewYearGoldClub

Unambiguously good for you, your body, and our planet, here’s the story of our line-caught wild Alaska salmonThis video tells the tale of a special fish from a special place and the people who bring the fish to you. Wild Alaskan salmon is truly a gift.

*Alaska Gold Club members are part of our Loyalty Program. Once you sign up, the default is set for monthly auto-shipments, but contact us if you’d prefer to receive shipment every 6 weeks, two months or two weeks—there are lots of other options, too. We’re flexible. If you’re traveling, just contact us and we’ll arrange for another shipping time. Alaska Gold Club members also get discounts on adding boxes to their regular orders.

**Coupon good only for starting new Alaska Gold Club Loyalty Program subscriptions.(Must be a new subscriber.) Expires 1/31/18.

Happy New Year from the folks at Alaska Gold Seafood!

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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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Where to buy sustainable seafood…

Halibut and crew of fishermen

People around the world are concerned about whether what they eat is sustainable and rightfully so. Food is perhaps our deepest connection to the earth and its rhythms. Seafood, in particular, represents a poignant connection with the natural world because it is the last commercially available wild meat. It’s no wonder sustainable seafood has become a buzz word, but what does it mean? You might ask, What is the state of the oceans? How are fish populations doing? What impact does the fish we eat have on the planet? These are all good questions. It’s important that we seek out fish that has been harvested without damaging the planet.

Alaska’s successful fisheries management practices have produced consistently healthy and sustainable fish harvests year after year. The state of Alaska has been seen as a model for sustainable seafood for the world. This notion came from a little detail in the 49th state’s State Constitution written in 1959: “Fish, forests, wildlife, grasslands, and all other replenishable resources belonging to the State shall be utilized, developed, and maintained on the sustained yield principle.” As a result of the unique foresight that the writers of the state constitution had, Alaska supplies more than half of the wild-caught seafood in the United States and a great amount of wild seafood throughout the world.

The secret to Alaska’s success with providing the United States and the world with sustainable seafood lies in two basic principles:

First, do no harm. Responsible fisheries management and sustainable fishing practices take care not to harm the fish, other marine plants and animals, nor the environment. In addition, fish populations are never over-fished. Over-fishing occurs when too many fish are taken from the sea and there are not enough fish left to replenish the natural population.

The second principle, which is really the end goal, means ensuring future generations have enough fish to catch. Sustainable seafood, in our minds, means having enough fish so that our grandchildren can fish the same way we do. In this way, Alaska promises to provide wild-caught salmon and sustainable seafood for generations to come.

For eons, Alaskans have sustained themselves with wild bounties from the sea. This reverence for fish can be seen in native arts, as well as the fishing practices of the families who make their living off the sea. Being responsible stewards of this rich natural resource means using careful harvesting methods, accurately reporting catches, and adhering to scientific data. This is the only way to protect the fish and the livelihood of fishermen and the communities that depend on them.

Alaska is just about as close as we’re going to get to a clean environment on the planet. Where the wild salmon, halibut, black cod and spot prawns eat only what nature provides. In Alaska, marine habitats are protected from harmful fishing methods and industrial pollution.

In Alaska’s Marine Protected Areas, hundreds of thousands of square miles have been established in the waters off Alaska to safeguard this habitat from human activity. No Alaska seafood has ever been listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

whale
Here’s a whale and fishing boat picture taken by our ice man Don Hielo.

Brown bear on Baranof Island. Southeast Alaska.

Alaska’s sustainable seafood management is science-based. Every aspect of fishing in Alaska is based on the latest scientific data being gathered by biologists. With new research, new guidelines are set for the total number of fish that can be caught. This science-first approach prevents over-fishing and helps maintain a healthy and sustainable fish population, while preserving the delicate ecosystem. Because of this precautionary and conservative approach, Alaska’s fisheries have become a model for the world.

Scientists first calculate the Acceptable Biological Catch (ABC), which is the maximum number of fish that can be sustainably caught. Then, to be cautious, fisheries managers determine the Total Allowable Catch (TAC), which is the total amount of fish that can be legally harvested. With these numbers, the state of Alaska ensures that that there will always be plenty of fish in the sea.

The National Marine Fisheries Service and the Alaska Department of Fish & Game, along with several other organizations at the local, state, federal and international levels, work together to set the sustainable management methods to uphold Alaska’s high standards. They employ the following practices: Time-and-area closures, Restrictions on size of boats, and Restrictions on type of fishing gear. The state’s unique blend of collaboration and public decision-making are key features of the Alaska fisheries management model. Public participation by fishermen and seafood processors, as well as environmental groups is encouraged. Alaskans believe that the opportunity for the public to participate in the fisheries management process helps build widespread understanding about smart management.

Fresh halibut
A biologist from the state of Alaska uses a temperature probe to check the quality of the halibut.

Alaska’s commitment to sustainability has proved the effectiveness of strict science-based management. When you buy Alaska seafood you are making a responsible choice for your health and that of the oceans. You are  supporting sustainable seafood. Ask for Alaska Gold Seafood.