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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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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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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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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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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.

***

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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What’s so special about Alaskan sablefish?

Black cod recipe

Everybody knows that wild salmon is a rich source of Omega-3, but few know that sablefish, commonly known by fishermen and others as black cod, have even more Omega-3 fatty acids than any wild salmon. Omega-3 fatty acids are believed to be good for the heart–they’re associated with a significant reduction in coronary artery diseases–and encourage brain cell membrane integrity and fluidity. Sablefish are loaded with on average 1.8 grams of Omega-3s per 100-gram serving versus 1.3 grams for the wild king salmon.

Sablefish is a Omega-3 king. Nutrition facts from the USDA.

Health Benefits of DHA and EPA long-chain Omega-3 fatty acids
Images courtesy of Alaska Seafood.

Our Alaska Gold sablefish comes from a fishermen-owned cooperative. Our Alaska Gold quality comes from our co-op’s impeccable standards and our integrity from being fishermen-owned.

Sablefish is found throughout the North Pacific Ocean and as far south as California. But Alaskan sablefish is special because it tends to be richer, possibly because of even cooler waters. Because Alaska has the sustainable yield principle written into its state constitution, Alaskan black cod are managed using science-based principles so that our fishermen’s grandchildren can fish for them the same way we do now. There is no threat to the Alaskan sablefish population, which is considered a “Green Choice” by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program.

For those in the know, sablefish is considered a great delicacy. Chef Kevin Lane from The Cookery in Seward, Alaska says, “Alaska sablefish is a staple on our menu. Its unctuous, fat-rich quality is well deserving of the term ‘Sea Butter.'” Our customers grill it, fry it, bake it and even make it into ceviche. Smoked black cod is also truly wonderful. One recipe that gets frequent praise is this Miso-Marinated Black Cod Recipe— a variation on a classic recipe made famous by Nobu’s Kitchen that many know as Nobu’s Black Cod. The mild sweetness of the miso marinade compliments the richness of the fish and brings on an attractive glaze to the fish. The sweetness of honey in this Honey Black Cod Recipe also complements the black cod, too. What works the best for sablefish is a mix of salty and sweet, which is why that miso marinade and the honey black cod work well. Another simple recipe is a marinade of 2/3 miso paste to 1/3 Thai chili paste. Add enough water to keep it paste-y. Don’t be afraid to cook on high. 10 minutes at 485° F works really well.

Honey Black Cod Recipe
Honey Black Cod Recipe

What’s unusual about sablefish in general is that it is such a rich source of omega-3s but dwells near the bottom of the ocean during its adult life. It can be found at depths of more than 2 miles! Or, as fishermen say, they can be found at depths greater than 1500 fathoms. Sablefish eat nutrient-dense fish like Pollock, capelin, herring, echelon, candle-fish, Pacific cod, jellyfish, and squids.

The inner lining of a sablefish’s stomach is lined with a jet-black film. This is a defense mechanism that protects the sablefish from being seen by other predators. Because some of the natural food that sablefish eat contains bioluminescence, their stomachs would light up and attract other fish in the dark depths of the ocean without this thick jet-black film.

Sablefish and black cod fillet

Most people ask for it by “black cod,” and we have many customers in Hawaii, southern California, and even the east coast who call it butterfish because of its butteriness, but its true name is sablefish and it isn’t even a cod at all. The black cod name goes back to times when anything living in the sea was considered a cod. Lingcod also is technically not a cod, but a lingcod is a lingcod to anybody living by the sea.

Up until the late 1990s, sablefish wasn’t known by western consumers. Almost all of the Alaskan sablefish went to Japan where it is considered a delicacy. Recently, chefs in restaurants and home chefs around the country have discovered that sablefish is rich in flavor and a joy to cook with and not unlike Chilean Sea Bass in texture and richness. Just like people call sablefish black cod, the Chilean Sea Bass’s real name is Patagonian Toothfish.

Whatever you call it and just about however you cook it, sablefish is a delicacy. Its richness makes it very forgiving to cook–it is difficult to overcook. That richness will also warm your belly. Order our sablefish here–we have sablefish fillets and portions.

Black cod. Sablefish

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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.

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The Fishermen’s Share: How the $1 per pound a fisherman gets becomes $10 for the customer and why that matters

Quality seafood
Charlie Wilber shows us a true dedication to quality seafood catching fish with traditional hook and line methods. Photo credit: Berett Wilber

There are plenty of “celebrity chefs,” but there aren’t many “celebrity producers.” The absence of “celebrity producers” comes from the fact that being a producer of raw ingredients isn’t an attention-seeking profession, even though producers are more than deserving of recognition.

Producers feed us. For many of us, food is sacred. It’s what we put in our bodies and gives us life. In the case of Seafood Producers Cooperative, our producers risk their lives to bring a pure, wild, minimally processed protein. When we ship fish to you, the ingredients list reads simply “wild salmon” or “halibut.” The people behind this food work hard, each bringing their unique style and background to their craft, and put their lives on the line to feed people, yet their share of the profit is modest. Which is why Wendell Berry so rightfully asks, “How can we assume that the world can be fed by an agriculture that continues to assign the greatest risks, the lowest income, and no regard at all to the primary producers?”

When you buy fish, your dollar is traditionally shared between four entities: 1) a fisherman, 2) a processor, 3) a wholesaler, and 4) a retailer all touch a fish before it ends up in your hands. For each dollar that you spend on fish, each of these entities takes a cut. And there’s a reason each takes a cut, because they do indeed all work hard to complete the transaction.

In general, fishermen produce a whole fish. In the case of salmon, the fisherman might deliver it head-on and gutted, headed and gutted, or in the round (all of the fish), depending on catch and freezing method. Nevertheless, sacrifices are made depending on the circumstances and how much time and space a crew has to properly process a fish on a pitching boat and whether that boat is equipped with a freezer. For this reason, there are processors who typically receive the fish, cut it accordingly into portions or filets, can, smoke, and/or freeze it, box it, and many times ship it to a wholesaler, who most likely specializes in transportation logistics, and has a customer list of fish markets, supermarkets, restaurants and even online marketplaces that fits their mode of transportation.

Amy Grondin with coho salmon
Amy Grondin with a line-caught coho salmon. Amy spends her off season going to sustainable food conferences working with organizations like Chef’s Collaborative.

What the wholesaler has that nobody else has, and is really the key to food sales in a country with over 300 million people, is the ability to distribute that fish efficiently.

This retailer that the wholesaler sells to has access to you the end consumer on your turf. You might be walking through the store picking up eggs and veggies and happen upon the fish case and decide to make fish for dinner or you might be avidly shopping online comparing salmon prices, or at the farmer’s market.

During these four steps, a portion of that dollar is taken by each of these four entities.

A question people rightfully ask is how much of that dollar goes to the fisherman himself? Certainly, many fishermen think it unfair that they deliver a fish to a processor for let’s say $1.00 per pound, and then the fisherman sees that same fish in the store or Pike’s Place Market being sold for $10.00 per pound. This 10 to 1 ratio is a hypothetical situation, but is not too far from what we see in reality.

While fishermen’s harvesting methods have become more efficient over time, the fishermen’s share of your dollar has declined over time, a fact known by fishermen all too well. In bad years, many fishermen revolt, try to form their own companies, many of which fail, because frequently those 3 other steps to find the people buying the fish and how to get the fish to them are more challenging than we realize. This same plight applies to farmers, syrup harvesters, ranchers, and any other direct producer of food products.

It is conceivable that steps two to four can be skipped when you go direct to the dock and buy an unprocessed fish, or a fish that the fisherman might cut up special for you right there. The fisherman might expect to see all of that $10.00 in such a scenario. However, most people don’t sit on a dock and wait for fishermen to show up. And somebody with enough time on their hands to stalk the docks might expect a significant discount over what they’d pay in the store.

Or a fisherman might go to the farmer’s market, spending time they could be fishing, to gab with people, and sell fish. This puts a face on the product, but the fishermen’s boat hold might fill up with more fish than can be sold, so the farmer’s market might not be the most efficient model—what does the fisherman do with what he doesn’t sell? How does she keep the fish at a proper temperature throughout the process? That fisherman then still needs to get involved in processing, cold storage, and transportation, at least at a small scale, and then come all of the risks entailed, too.

There are some companies that control all four steps to the consumer or creatively condense these steps. Almost always, the biggest hurdle is transportation. People at home always forget about this part, and certainly underestimate the costs and hard work involved in safely transporting a perishable product. The truckers, couriers, dock loaders and cold storage operators are also unsung heroes in the food industry.

The word “local” is now ingrained into the educated food shopper’s mind, but even if the product comes from ten miles away, there is a transportation cost and temperature control to think about. In actuality, many times these small local orders suffer greatly with regard to economies of scale in terms of distribution. It becomes more cost effective to ship 1000 pounds of apples from Washington state to New York City than 100 pounds of apples from rural counties in Washington state to Seattle. Measured by the pound, the former transaction can counter-intuitively have less impact on the environment. In addition, local’s nice but it’s also nice to have orange juice, for example, in the middle of winter in Ohio. The same goes for many other products. As far as we know, they don’t grow coffee in Ohio. Or salmon. Why not source wild salmon from 4000 miles away from a state that has sustainable seafood written into the constitution when it can be brought with some efficiency?

Another aspect forgotten in the transaction is processing. If a fish is portioned with bones, viscera, fins, and other non-desirable parts removed, 40 cents of that fishermen’s dollar per pound gets removed, and that’s before the processor is paid. These extra parts might feed a sea lion, a mink farm (lots of these by fish processors), or pet food for pennies on the pound. Not to mention the labor involved with portioning—most is still done by hand and requires expertise. Joe on his first day on the job is not going to be nearly as good as Mary, who has been cutting fish her whole life. Then there’s packaging, labeling, all the jumping through hoops required by regulatory agencies—important hoops so that consumers know what they’re getting, even in an age when much seafood in stores, even more in restaurants, comes mislabeled.

When you start penciling out transportation and processing costs, you can quickly see how that dollar per pound to the fisherman can quickly become ten dollars.  Another aspect quickly forgotten, but that the retailer must keep constant vigilance over, is spoilage. If the retailer is working with “fresh never frozen” fish, there might be 30% of it that doesn’t get sold or has to be sold for a big discount. This spoilage factors greatly into that end retailer’s price.

The other way around this spoilage problem is freezing the fish. We wish more end consumers would realize that in many cases the frozen fish is superior to the “fresh never frozen” fish. Given freezing technologies and good vigilance, that frozen fish can be kept for quite some time. Also, it literally kills fishermen to walk by a seafood case in the supermarket and watch (and smell) fish dying. Smart consumers are seeing that the fish in the frozen case can be many times “fresher” than what’s in the “fresh” case. There’s no hard and fast rule—a fish’s quality is going to depend on a number of factors. Firstly, you have to start with a good fish. Catch methods, boat sanitation, processing methods, freezing methods, temperature control, all play an important role in the quality of the fish. There are frozen fish that have been out of the water for three years that are much better than most of what you get in a “fresh” case at the supermarket.

So back to the dollar per pound that the fishermen earns. That’s gross revenue. What about the $40 a salmon troller spends on a 50-pound cannonball lead weight for each of his lines? The leader? Trolling wire? Bait? Fuel? Paint for the boat each season? Engine maintenance? Permits? Quota? Association fees? That one dollar quickly becomes a few dimes at best. Winter jobs are necessary for the budding fisherman to make due. Fortunately, our trollers have winter kings to chase, but it’s a brutal slog through 30-knot winds, cold rain and snow.

At sea, the only absolute is uncertainty. On land, the office people deal in absolutes. Everything is more black and white. Office people sell fish for more than what they bought it at. A figure can be penciled at what price per pound will pay the employees doing the books, and keeping track of orders and maybe just maybe make the company money. In our case, as a co-op, the profit goes to the fishermen who own and democratically run the co-op. Which also puts risk into the picture for these owners. So, our business on one end is absolute and on the other it’s uncertain. What’s really certain is that we work in an industry that is absolutely uncertain—the food industry in general or any other industry that depends on nature is precarious, wild and exciting, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

As a producer-owned co-op our mission is making sure that quality-oriented fishermen get the best return for their hard work. By supporting the small boat fishing community we also create a market to ensure that fish caught the right way, sustainably harvested fish, finds its way to people’s homes.

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Top 5 Seafood Myths

Here’s our top 5 seafood myths list:

5. Fresh (never frozen) is better than frozen.

What matters more than being “fresh, not frozen” versus “previously frozen” is the fish you started with and how the fish was handled all the way through its journey to your plate. Start with fish from the pristine waters around Alaska. When salmon are line-caught by our fishermen, they are actively feeding in the open ocean. This video shows how our Frozen At Sea salmon caught and how it is fresher than fresh. Here’s chef Marcus Guiliano on why frozen is sometimes better than “fresh.”

 

4. Fish is radioactive.

1 mSV is the FDA safe yearly radiation exposure level for a person. You will get the same dose by eating 244,800 pounds of our albacore tuna. o.4 mSV is the radiation exposure from a mammogram. You will get the same dose by eating 97,920 pounds of tuna. 0.04 mSV is the radiation exposure as a result of flying on a commercial airplane from LA to New York. You will get the same dose by eating 9792 pounds of tuna. 0.001 mSV is the radiation exposure from eating a banana. You will get the same dose by eating 24.48 pounds of tuna.

In other words, there is more radiation in your banana than in your tuna.

3. Fish is loaded with mercury.

Our fish is not known as a high-risk fish for Mercury.  Alaska is an extremely low population area. The rivers in Alaska where most of the salmon are born, reared, and eventually spawn have very few people living near them – usually towns with populations of less than 10,000 people, which makes the rivers an excellent environment for salmon to call home. Therefore, our fish is very safe from mercury contamination. In addition, the salmon, albacore tuna, sablefish and halibut we sell  are high in selenium, which is an essential mineral that counteracts mercury toxicity. This is an excellent summary of why healthy eaters should not limit consumption of ocean seafood over concerns of mercury contamination. It’s also widely recognized that eating a Mediterranean diet rich with vegetables and fish is associated with longer life expectancy.

2. Salmon is overfished.

There is enough wild salmon in Alaska to feed all Americans. However, 2/3rds of it is exported because we Americans do not value our wild fish as much as people in other places. Watching salmon return to rivers in Alaska is astonishing and beautiful. We do need to protect the habitat in which salmon spawn and dwell. The threats from mining and pollution are legitimate. However, Alaska salmon is not overfished but very carefully managed to bring a sustainable harvest every year.

And our number one most repeated seafood myth…

  1. It’s difficult to cook fish.

In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Fish is easier to cook than other meats. It certainly cooks quicker, so you do have to be careful not to overcook. But with a premium-quality fish like our line-caught  salmon, minimal seasonings are all that are necessary to make a delightful and our fish will taste like it came fresh from the sea. Our convenient vacuum-sealed portions make it very easy to cook with. When you’re ready to cook, you can take each portion out of the freezer—one at a time, or two, three, or all ten—and thaw under refrigeration for 24 hours. Before mealtime, take the portion(s) out of the fridge and let sit at room temperature for 10-15 minutes. Use scissors to take the fish portion(s) out of its vacuum-sealed pack. Wipe the fish down with a paper towel. Use minimal seasonings. Let the fish’s natural flavors stand out. You’ll see that our fish is outstanding and we are very proud of it. You can also cook our fish from frozen. In 15 minutes you can have a beautiful, healthy meal ready. Here are a number of recipes and suggestions.

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Here’s a picture from a customer of what our coho salmon portions look like right out of the box.