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
Spring is here and it’s time to grill some salmon.
We’d like to encourage our customers to try different species of our salmon. Everything we do is quality and all of our line-caught salmon are the pinnacle of quality. We offer these tasting notes to help you choose:
Of the Pacific wild salmon that we sell, there are king salmon. With meat colors ranging from orange-red to creamy white and everything in between, mostly depending on the ratio of shrimp and krill to prey fish they are eating, these are the largest and least numerous of the Pacific salmon. King salmon tend to return to bigger river systems to spawn and to prepare for this journey up big, fast-moving streams, they build up a lot of what for us are the good fats loaded with heart-healthy Omega-3s. The king salmon’s big flake and succulent, rich flavor and very high oil content make them very much in demand and the most popular seafood item we sell. The best way to cook would be a slow grill at 275° F over a flavorful hardwood like alder or cedar. Capers or mustard-y acidic sauces will help balance out the fish flavor of a king salmon.
A very close second in popularity is our coho salmon. Milder and more delicate, with a peachy orange color, coho salmon’s quality and flavor benefit greatly from being line-caught, as their delicate meat, prized for pairing with fine meals, is kept in pristine condition with the dedicated handling procedures practiced on trolling boats. Like king salmon, coho salmon are rich in oils and coho salmon are particularly rich in vitamin D, while being leaner than king salmon. Their mild flavor makes them easy to pair with all kinds of recipes and a family favorite and pleasing also to picky eaters and children alike. The coho is more delicate and a little bit more prone to overcooking than king salmon. Both the coho salmon portions we sell and the larger fillets are thinner than king salmon, but this thinner fillet can mean a more consistent cook throughout the fish, and some of our customers, myself included, prefer the thinner coho salmon fillets and portions over the king salmon for this reason. (I also really like the milder flavor of the coho.) Once again, low and slow on the grill is the way to go to avoid overcooking.
Another species of salmon that benefits from being line-caught is keta salmon. Most keta salmon are caught in nets as they approach streams and the end of their lives with poor meat quality, making them eventually sold in lower-end markets. In contrast, our Alaska Gold wild keta salmon are caught on hook and line. By definition, line-caught salmon are actively feeding and at the peak of their quality.The difference in being line-caught cannot be underestimated. Our Alaska Gold keta salmon are very mild, moist, and delicious, and can be used in a variety of recipes, like this Keta Salmon Curry with Lemongrass and Galanga Recipe or this Sweet Chili Keta Salmon recipe. One of the best ways to enjoy keta salmon is slow-grilled with teriyaki sauce. A blackening seasoning or creamy sauces like those used for a Halibut Olympia recipe also work well with our keta salmon.
Have you tried our sockeye salmon?? Sockeye salmon is one of the more numerous Alaskan salmon. They are prized for their deep red color, firm texture and robust flavor. They are plankton eaters and do not usually take hooks, so they are rarely caught on hook and line. From time to time we offer the rare line-caught sockeye salmon we catch for sale on the Alaska Gold website. This is a really, really special offering, as less than 1/100th of 1% of sockeye salmon available in stores are caught on hook and line and benefit from both the care given to each fish that is typical for a line-caught salmon and also being caught in a state of active feeding. Sockeye salmon, because of their bold flavor, can hold their own with super-flavorful spices and sauces. DO NOT MISS this wonderful line-caught sockeye salmon!
Quality starts in the water. The initial condition of the fish establishes the upper limit of it’s quality. From there it can only be degraded, not improved- thus a net-caught salmon, typically caught near the river mouth, won’t match the quality of a line-caught salmon on the open ocean.
Our friend Samantha Ferraro is the author of The Weeknight Mediterranean Kitchen, a cookbook that extols the beauties of the Mediterranean diet with beautifully simple dishes and colorful photos.
This Keta Salmon Curry with Lemongrass and Galanga Recipe is not necessarily Mediterranean per se but borrows heavily from the colorful vegetable-forward beauty of Mediterranean cuisine. In this dish, wild keta salmon is poached with strong Thai flavors of ginger, galanga and lemongrass in a robust curry.
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.
Make a salad or something that doesn’t involve reheating.
This salad inspiration comes from a customer, who writes: “Made with corn salad (mache) and volunteer arugula from the garden, avocado, croutons made from stale homemade wheat bread, and pieces of leftover Alaska Gold coho salmon filets, plus a little orange-infused olive oil, this salad sure was a winner! My husband doesn’t usually get too excited about salads, but he liked this one so much that he grabbed his phone and took a picture of it totally ecstatic. The combination of flavors surprised him. He’s a recent salmon convert thanks to Alaska Gold, and he’s no photographer, but this salad, made on the fly when we came home from a morning hike, sure is pretty.”
Salads like this one made from leftover coho salmon are also a really great way to maximize macro and micro nutrients in one meal. The perfect mix is a quality sourced protein, like wild salmon, which is rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, and some good fats (an avocado, for example), a bed of nutrient-rich leafy greens, and tons of other veggies and add-ons (some Marcona almonds would also work really well) based on our activity levels and what our bodies are needing.
What’s also great about these salads is that they are easy to prep once you have the leftover salmon. 8 to 10 minutes tops.
A lot of our customers order the bulk sized coho salmon filets, and they grill or bake them for a meal. If there are leftovers, tear up the salmon into pieces, and you can make wonderful salads like these. Put them in some Tupperware and bring them with you in your lunch box, and you’ve got a healthy lunch!
Note: It’s also good to remember to not reheat salmon. In general, this causes the salmon’s natural oils to get rancid. Though leftover salmon works really well for example with scrambled eggs for breakfast, it can go into the pan at the very end of cooking.
If you’re going to do something, you have to set your internal compass toward excellence and go for it, because nothing else matters.
I recently ate a home pack of our Alaska Gold Salmon and, as I often do afterwards, thought to myself, “Wow! This is really good stuff!”
It made me think about just how special our Alaska Gold salmon really are. It took only a bit of research to discover that…
Of the total world salmon supply sold for food, only around 12% of it is wild Alaskan. (A huge portion of the remainder is Atlantic aka farmed salmon.)
Of all the wild Alaska salmon, only about 1.5% of that is caught by the traditional hook and line methods like we use.
Of the line-caught Alaskan king salmon and coho salmon out there, 30% is from our fishermen-owned cooperative, which has been known for its fastidious attention to quality and integrity for over 70 years.
So, the salmon we catch is the best 1/20th of 1% in the world! 1/20th of 1%= 1 pound out of a ton. Which means that our Alaska Gold salmon is the best of the best of the best!
Alaska Gold salmon is caught by members of Seafood Producers Cooperative, a fishermen-owned co-op based in Sitka, Alaska. We have immense pride in serving our customers the finest king salmon and coho salmon available.
More than any fish we catch coho salmon is arguably the heart and soul of our region and our fishermen-owned co-op. Each summer coho salmon return to the thousands of tiny creeks that stream through the ancient trees of the Tongass Rain Forest, which makes up a good part of southeast Alaska. You can watch them jump up waterfalls, giving it their all, with the aim of returning to a little pool to spawn. Our fishermen catch each wild coho salmon One Hook One Fish At A Time on the ocean at their peak, then dress and ice each salmon to keep them in perfect condition until they reach our customers. Available in boxes of 6 portions, 5 pounds and 10 pounds, we also have fill-your-freezer larger, discounted boxes of bulk coho salmon portions, too.
“You don’t grow old eating Alaska Gold.” The nutrients in salmon are many and it’s no wonder we can fish through the long 16-hour days of the salmon season. Wild Alaskan Salmon is truly a gift. Each year they keep coming back to take care of us and keep us nourished through the winter.
As a fishermen-owned co-op, we’ve been part of Alaska and the Pacific Northwest for a long time and we look forward to delivering you the highest quality seafood.
Wild salmon from the cold, clear waters of Alaska ranks as some of the world’s finest seafood. For extraordinary taste and extraordinary health benefits, eat more wild salmon.
There is no more optimal source of protein than wild salmon. Lean but dense with nutrients at the same time, wild salmon is a perfect protein. Heart-healthy with the right profile of fat, protein and nutrients, wild salmon is loaded with healthy benefits. It’s even good for your hands and skin!
2. Our Alaska Gold salmon is delivered to your door frozen on dry ice to maintain temperature control. Remove dry ice. (DO NOT USE BARE HANDS to remove dry ice!)
3. Put salmon in freezer upon receipt. You should receive tracking info via email to know when to expect delivery.
4. The best way to thaw is to put in your refrigerator for 24 hours. Each individually vacuum-sealed salmon portion can be removed from freezer and thawed in your fridge, one at a time, for use whenever you’d like to eat it.
5. After 24-hour thaw in your refrigerator, remove and cut open vacuum-sealed package. Remove salmon portion from package.
6. Rinse and dry the fillet with a paper towel. Let sit out on your counter for a good 20 minutes to let the salmon get to room temperature. (When it’s too cold, the salmon will stick to your grill or pan.)
7. Marinate if desired in a favorite purchased or prepared marinade.
8. Pre-heat the grill if grilling or the pan if sauteing. We have some seafood cooking tips here on how to roast, bake or poach our salmon. Poaching is an excellent method to enjoy our coho salmon. If grilling, we’re big advocates of using a tin foil to make a tent to help retain the salmon’s moisture. Dry salmon is the worst and the best thing you can do is to prevent dryness. Using the “tin foil salmon tent” goes a long way to help retain the salmon’s moisture and natural flavors. Cook for about 10 minutes per inch of fish thickness. Turning is not necessary. Start “checking” the fish after 8 minutes. We like the fish when it starts flaking easily. We encourage you to cook slowly if grilling or baking–250º F is a great temperature, though there are merits to cooking at higher temperatures. We have some wild salmon recipes here.
9. DON’T OVERCOOK!! This is probably the biggest mistake made when cooking seafood. Overcooked fish is dry and unpalatable. When you remove your salmon fillets from the grill, they will continue to cook a little as they sit, so remove them from the grill when they are just nearly done. Salmon is done when it turns a light pink color throughout and feels firm when pressed gently with the back of a fork. Enjoy!
Many of us enjoy our Alaska Gold salmon with the most basic of pairings. Sea salt and a little pepper. I use the dried lavender from my yard, some sea salt and an orange rind to make a lavender sea salt rub, the seasoning that I have most often on my grilled salmon. Other herbs from the garden that pair well with salmon include dill and tarragon. The combination of honey and soy makes a savory sweet combination that goes well with salmon. Lemon and garlic also go well. Take 2 tablespoons butter, 2 teaspoons garlic, the juice from one lemon, a dash of of pepper and two of our coho salmon portions to make a simply delicious meal. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Stir in garlic. Season salmon with pepper and a pinch of salt. Put portions in skin side up for four minutes and then flip and cook for another four minutes. Squeeze some lemon juice onto the salmon. You can substitute olive oil for butter.
How to pick a salmon: There are 5 varieties of commercially available wild Pacific Salmon. Each of these 5 have their virtues. In terms of richness, king salmon (otherwise known as chinook) is king. King salmon are the largest of the five species and are prized for their high oil content and are the salmon frequently featured on upscale restaurant menus. Sockeye salmon is also very flavorful and is known for its distinctive bright red flesh color and complex, robust flavor. Coho salmon (which is frequently called silver salmon) is known for its milder flavor. Families with children enjoy coho salmon but kids like the mild flavor. Coho salmon is best when line-caught like our Alaska Gold salmon. Versatile, coho salmon is a great option to grill or poach. It’s also the perfect salmon with which to make gravlax. If you smoke salmon or cure salmon at home, coho salmon is ideal. Keta salmon is also called chum salmon or dog salmon because it was fed to sled dogs. Though maligned as dog food, when caught in its silver bright color, keta salmon has a mild, nutty flavor, which can be quite pleasant. Pink salmon, which fishermen call “humpies” for the humpback that male pink salmon develop when spawning, is the most populous salmon. It cans and smokes well, which is how you’ll most frequently encounter it. Fish sold as Atlantic salmon, Scottish salmon, or New Zealand salmon is sure to be farmed salmon, as there are no commercially available wild Atlantic salmon in the United States and farmed salmon were introduced to New Zealand. Our Alaska Gold salmon is all wild-caught in the cold, clear waters of Alaska, which has sustainable fishing written into the state constitution. It’s quicker and less expensive to produce a farmed salmon than catching a wild salmon, but quality, in addition to environmental and ethical concerns factor into that lower price. Some people find farmed salmon flabby and off tasting. We find our wild-caught Alaska Gold salmon to have superior flavor, color and a firmer texture. In addition, with state of the art freezing technology, our Alaska Gold salmon can be enjoyed year-round. We recommend storing in your home freezer for no longer than 3 months. Ideally, use the coldest setting on your freezer. Those with dedicated meat/seafood freezers will get longer shelf life on their seafood because opening and shutting the door on your freezer presents slight temperature changes, which are second only to poor boat and dockside handling in terms of reducing quality in seafood.
Every once in a while, customers request a whole salmon. We have thought of offering whole salmon through our website. However, how would we box it in a manner suitable for a home consumer? Each salmon weighs a different amount. It would be difficult to make a consistent size package every time. Also, if we’re feeding a family of 5 to 6, then a whole salmon might make sense. But most people are feeding two to four people at mealtime and usually don’t have the space in their kitchen to “break down” a salmon. Filleting and “breaking down” a salmon is much more difficult than it looks. So we do that all for you. We offer individually vacuum-sealed portion packages. The most popular are our 8-ounce king salmon portions and our 6-ounce coho salmon portions. For those filling their freezers or sharing with friends to buy for a larger group, we offer discounted prices on our bulk salmon offerings. We also offer what we call fillets but most customers will identify as “sides.” These are the whole side of the salmon. These wild coho salmon sides are ideal for making gravlax and for grilling. Just contact us with any questions on the ideal amount to order.
During late summer and early fall in Southeast Alaska, rivers are full of salmon returning to spawn. And these wild salmon are precisely the reason behind all of the other life that comes out to play during the Alaskan summer. Amy Gulick, in Salmon in the Trees, notes that 137 species in the Tongass Rain Forest of Southeast Alaska depend on wild salmon. Particularly dependent on the Tongass are the wild coho salmon that run up the thousands of small creeks that stream through virgin old growth forest.
Wild salmon are the fertilizer upon which an entire forest grows. As a keystone species in the Tongass Rainforest in Southeast Alaska, wild salmon bring marine nutrients inland and provide an important food resource for a variety of animals. These nutrients also increase the productivity of nearby plants and forests. Mammals from mice to grizzly bears feast on spawning salmon. So do bald eagles and ravens, as do many other birds. Birds and mammals fly off with or drag carcasses into surrounding forests, bringing marine-derived nutrients for the forests around salmon-bearing streams. Up to 70% of the nitrogen intake for plants and trees in the Tongass Rain Forest can be traced back to wild salmon. The trees in the forest grow, provide shade, cooling the water, making it the ideal temperature for the salmon to spawn. This full circle relationship also involves Southeast Alaskan fishermen.
Fishermen’s ways of life depend on healthy salmon runs, which also depend on these forests and the healthy watersheds that are part of forests. Our fishermen live within a “Blue Economy.” Their livelihoods depend on the ocean, which in turn depends on the forest. Salmon fishermen are some of the first to advocate for the health of the oceans and forests. They advocate for forests because the salmon need them for survival. Fishermen do not want the health of the forests disproportionately ceded to mining or logging interests, which can have long-term detrimental effects on the forests and hence the salmon runs.
It might sound counter-intuitive, but in essence protecting wild salmon by buying wild salmon from fishermen who fish in well-managed fisheries is one of the best ways to support wild salmon and the habitats in which wild salmon dwell. It’s easy to say not eating wild salmon would be better to save them, but then who would advocate for the wild salmon and these places?
Market-based solutions can be the most effective solutions to solving the problems of feeding people in an environmentally-friendly way because they bring solutions that have benefits that are sustainable both in an ecological and an economic sense. Working in partnership with other interest groups, protecting wild salmon can be good for all parties. Fisheries are the top economic driver in the Tongass National Forest. With 25-percent of the entire West Coast’s entire salmon harvest coming from the Tongass, that’s important work that fishermen do. And wild salmon, when habitats are protected and fisheries managed according to the science-first principles used by Alaska Fish and Game, can be a renewable resource from now into perpetuity.
Last November, the McDowell Group, a market research firm with a socio-economic focus, released an economic study commissioned by the advocacy group Salmon Beyond Borders, a group of concerned fishermen in alliance with Native American and First Nations tribes from coastal southeast Alaska communities. The study considers the economic value of commercial fishing and tourism, two of the region’s key industries that depend significantly on the health of Alaskan rivers. The study found that the Taku, Stikine, and Unuk rivers generate an annual 48 million dollars in economic activity for Southeast Alaska. When considering a 30-year horizon, these watersheds are valued at just under 1 billion dollars. This economic value can in theory be generated in perpetuity through careful management of sustainable fishing. In addition, tourists come to see these last wild, pristine places in person.
Fish, wildlife, and scenic resources are fully renewable. They also have the potential to offer greater economic value as similar resources and experiences grow more scarce. The bounty from these rivers provides thousands of jobs that contribute to the well-being of Southeast Alaskan coastal communities. And the fishermen and others who work in contact with salmon and forests take a deep interest into conserving these places for future generations. Supporting fishermen that fish using sustainable methods by buying Alaska seafood direct from a fishermen-owned co-op at Alaska Gold Seafood is part of sustaining the salmon forest.
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.
“The bears, eagles, and trees here in Southeast are the salmon […] These forests are where the ocean comes to die–and to be reborn.”
The Salmon in the Trees by Amy Gulick
If you’ve ever been to Southeast Alaska in the late summer, you know that it’s just teeming with life. Bears are out. Birds are flocking to the skies. Whale spouts aren’t difficult to spot. Snow-capped mountains, endless bays and inlets fill the landscape. The rivers are full of salmon returning to spawn. And these salmon are precisely the reason behind all of the other life that comes out to play during the Alaska summer.
The salmon are the fertilizer upon which all other things grow. As a keystone species in the Tongass Rainforest in Southeast Alaska, salmon bring marine nutrients inland and provide an important food resource for a variety of animals. They also increase the productivity of nearby plants and forests. Mammals from mice to grizzly bears feast on spawning salmon. So do bald eagles and ravens, as do many other birds.Birds and mammals fly off with or drag carcasses into surrounding forests, bringing marine-derived nutrients for the forests around salmon-bearing streams, which tend to be much healthier when salmon are present. 137 species in the Tongass Rainforest depend on wild salmon!
Wild Alaska salmon is the canary in the coal mine for the entire region. Wild salmon is the pulse of places like the Tongass Rain Forest in Southeast Alaska. And eating wild salmon caught by small boat fishermen from Southeast Alaska supports these coastal communities and ecosystems.
Salmon, like other wild seafood, is the last commercially available wild meat. Watching a salmon jump up a ten-foot waterfall illustrates the wildness that’s part of us. It’s the pure joy. Pure life in its most elemental form. When we eat this wild salmon, we’re being infused with this wild energy. That is the essence of wild Alaska salmon.
Despite thriving salmon fisheries in Alaska that could easily feed the entirety of the nation and then some, more than three-quarters of it is exported. We, as Americans, are not getting our recommended 2-3 heart-healthy seafood servings per week, while Alaska is literally the wild seafood breadbasket of the world. The good stuff literally swims away.