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.
Note that now through the end of April, we have two wild salmon
specials: Get 10% off our Alaska Gold
salmon with the following coupon code: SalmonSpecial
But if you get more than two varieties
of our salmon, use the following coupon code for 15% off the salmon, and we’ll also throw in a
6-portion box of keta salmon (while supplies last): SalmonSmorgasbord
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.
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.”
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.
Exceptional place, exquisite fish, Alaska Gold Seafood is caught with pride One Hook One Fish At A Time by the fishermen owners of Seafood Producers Cooperative. Get premium-quality wild Alaska Seafood delivered to your door at www.AlaskaGoldBrand.com.
“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.
*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.
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.”
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.
The Tammy Lin has a 17,000-pound capacity hold and once it’s filled George can return to town to deliver the fish. George estimates that the freezer burns a gallon of diesel per hour, but of course gets more efficient with more fish in the hold, as the ambient temperature lowers.
George has a “custom” set-up. A fisherman could also get a “drop-in” freezer set-up from a company like Integrated Marine Systems (IMS) out of Seattle, Washington. IMS manufactures and helps install freezers for fishing vessels.
A critical point is having an extremely well insulated hold. Fishermen adding freezers to their boats with poorly insulated holds not only run less efficiently, but cause frost build-up and their fish won’t reach those colder temperatures as quickly, sacrificing quality. The Tammy Lin is so well insulated that, with no air leaks, defrosting the hold causes the hatch to pop open.
For salmon trollers, blast freezers blowing freezing wind at 10 knots over trays of frozen fish, are the preferred freezing system, but for some fishermen seeking albacore tuna, a number prefer the brine system with a mix of frozen seawater. A shrimp fisherman will use a plate freezer. It must be said that there are a number of schools of thought, as scientists at the Oregon State University’s Seafood Lab have studied. Edward Kolbe, Cormac Craven, Gil Sylvia and Michael Morrissey’s “Chilling and Freezing Guidelines to Maintain Onboard Quality and Safety of Albacore Tuna” runs through the pros and cons of each freezing method and the most critical principles to consider when running a freezer on a tuna fishing vessel.
The guiding principle, as it is with frozen-at-sea salmon, is getting the fish as cold as possible and as quickly as possible. In the case of tuna, which little does the average public know is a warm-blooded creature, their body temperature coming out of the water might be as high as 80℉ (27℃) at the core. Having a deck tank with chilled sea water helps ensure that the fish gets cold (ideally to 40℉) as quickly as possible before putting it in the freezer, which minimizes temperature fluctuation in the hold, reduces freezer energy load, and improves flesh quality. Maintaining colder temperatures minimizes autolytic degradation that can cause histamine build-up in a warmer water fish like tuna. Warm fish bring ambient heat, impeding the freezer’s efficiency and its ability to keep all fish in the hold as cold as possible. This chill rate will depend also on fish size, ambient air temperature or the water temperature in a deck tank and a “rapid rate” depends on the eye of the beholder. The heat transfer coefficient will affect freezing time and an appropriate catch rate should be determined for the vessel’s freezing system and hold. The initial freezing point of a fish will depend on its moisture content but is typically around 28 to 30℉. Freezing too slow causes dehydration, increased enzyme activity, decreasing the quality of the fish and causing spoilage, and protein denaturation, meaning that muscle proteins have unraveled from their coiled state, decreasing their ability to hold water molecules. Upon thawing, the water drains away as drip loss.
As noted above, once the fish is harvested there is no way to improve its quality, but you can slow down the rate of quality deterioration by properly handling the fish on board, freezing it quickly, and storing the fish at a temperature that does not fluctuate. This is the ideal for frozen seafood—the proverbial “perfect 10.”
There are a number of technical barriers to entry to a salmon fisherman installing a freezer on his or her boat. Firstly, some fishermen don’t want to stay out the 21 days that the freezer allows. Those fishermen forgo the premium dock price because there is certainly a romance to not having to hear a generator run all night. George “sleeps with one eye open” while fishing, so the noise of a generator running all night doesn’t bother him. In addition, George hired an extra hand when he installed the freezer because of the extra steps required. The Tammy Lin runs a crew of 3, including the captain. The extra hand makes the “big days” of 400 fish much more do-able. And some freezer boat fishermen have noted that there are 18 distinct steps one must take with the fish before putting it into the hold. An average to good day of 100 fish or so is manageable without the extra help, but boats that run only a crew of two can end up sacrificing quality or end up burning themselves out working a succession of 20-hour work days, which would be the norm in an Alaska summer salmon season. George’s deckhands work quickly and carefully, cutting heads off, making belly incisions, gutting the fish, pressure bleeding it with a pipette, and carefully stowing it on aluminum trays, using a batch system to make it goes as efficiently as possible. In addition to cleaning and pressure bleeding with a pipette pre-rigor, George has at least three hoses running, cleaning the deck.
Once a fisherman installs a freezer on their boat, they have to become licensed as a “direct marketing fisherman,” and their boat essentially becomes a “portable processor” with a HACCP plan and paperwork to fill out 4 to 6 times a day. George notes numbers of fish caught, parts per million in the bleach solutions, where they dumped their head, etc. As a processor, George needs to have a tarp over his deck, his processing area, whereas ice fishermen can work with the sun (or other elements) above them. Having to comply with regulations from the Department of Environmental Conservation and even Homeland Security becomes part of the workday for a direct marketing fisherman producing a frozen-at-sea product. More taxes to pay and regular inspections also become a concern.
Other little details matter, too. George says he goes through a lot more knives on his freezer boat, as the extra steps require more cutting. An ice boat will leave town with a few thousand pounds of ice that serves as a stabilizing ballast. George added some rolling stabilizers to help his freezer boat when leaving town with an empty hold. Each light in the freezer hold needs to be covered, should it be bumped and broken it will not contaminate the fish with broken glass. He puts a 6% seawater glaze on his fish and maintains a bleach solution in which fish are dipped.
Probably the biggest, somewhat unspoken barrier to entry to installing a freezer onto a small fishing vessel, is finding a market for a fish of that quality. Restaurants rarely have a space to thaw out a frozen-at-sea fish and might only take a few fish at a time. Fewer chefs have the ability to break down a whole fish. Nevertheless, when put to blind taste tests with fresh-never-frozen salmon, a frozen-at-sea salmon is going to be as good as a fish that has just been pulled out of the water. You also get the added benefit of more efficient, hassle-free transportation once it’s frozen, and a lot longer shelf life. It’s a “perfect 10” when done right. The troll-caught frozen-at-sea wild salmon is a standard by which all other seafood is judged. Reaching that standard isn’t for the feint of heart.
*Note: George Eliason is retiring this year. “After 50+ years on the ocean, why not get off? I’ve pretty much seen and done all that I wanted.” George’s attention to detail will be passed on to future generations.
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 weseek 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.
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.
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.