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Fishing the King Salmon opener: What it’s like delivering line-caught wild Alaskan salmon

This month, we celebrate the king salmon. And gratitude.

This is the story of what it’s like to produce line-caught wild king salmon.

I spend most of my time in the office answering emails and calls, composing monthly reports for our Alaska Gold Seafood business, and writing blog posts like this one. But in early July I got to go out fishing for the first summer king salmon opener in southeast Alaska and wanted to share my experience here for our customers because not until you see our fishermen in action can you really appreciate the extraordinary craft that is producing a line-caught wild Alaskan king salmon. It’s what makes me show up to work every day.

I went out fishing with Charlie Piercy who has been a Seafood Producers Cooperative fisherman/owner since 1986 and until recently has served on our Fishermen Board of Directors as Chairman. Charlie usually fishes with his wife Sally in what he calls a “mom and pop” operation on the F/V Tuckahoe, a  wooden trolling boat built in 1952 in Port Angeles, Washington. But Sally recently had knee injury and thought Charlie would need some company, so Charlie asked me to go fishing with him. It’s great to get out of the office and I responded, “Yeah, sure. It’ll be fun.”

“I don’t know about fun,” Charlie said, “but it’ll be interesting. You’ll be fishing. And as it is for all of us fishermen, when the money runs out, at least we’ll have the stories.”

The name for Charlie’s boat, the Tuckahoe comes from Virginia Algonquian tockawhoughe and is the name for either of two rhizomatic aquatic plants found in marshes and swamps used for food by early native Americans on the east coast. It’s also the name of a village in New York and legend says that the boat builder jumped up and swam there from Ellis Island upon arriving in America. The builder wanted a unique name with distinction.

Having known Charlie as our board chairman and seen him in action through fishermen board meetings, I know that he is an engineer by training from his methodical thinking and a poet at heart for his creative analogies to present ideas. You can tell all of this immediately once you arrive at his property, which Charlie calls his sanctuary. Overlooking a spectacular view of Clarence Strait amidst a beautiful forest, Charlie’s sanctuary is built with timber he felled and artifacts from a career of fishing and working in the woods.

Charlie’s mind works in different ways and he has unusual ways of communicating his ideas. You have to listen carefully because Charlie speaks in metaphors and analogies and might be talking about ice cream when he’s really talking about fish. The rockfish we catch he calls ice cream money, because they’re not why we’re out on the water, but they’re the icing on the cake, the little bonus to the fishing trip that allows Charlie to buy some ice cream as a treat. As chairman, Charlie led our fishermen-owned co-op with his unusual thinking that sparked productive conversations. His leadership got our board and co-op into a much better place and for that I am grateful and have deep respect for Charlie.

I meet Charlie in Ketchikan and the first thing we do is go grocery shopping for a week’s worth of supplies. Charlie lives at the end of the road on Revillagigedo Island in a house he built with timber that he cut down himself. That night, I meet the Piercy Family and have dinner and play my mandolin in the Piercy garden overlooking Clarence Strait on a long Alaskan summer evening before our departure. Even at 10:30, the gorgeous orange sun hangs in the horizon over the strait creating a symphony of bird songs and mandolin twang.  A fruit tree planted for each grandchild, Sally is careful to put the chickens in at night, as I see the damage caused by a brown bear on one of the crabapple trees.

Charlie Piercy and the F/ V Tuckahoe.

The following morning we depart Ketchikan Harbor just after 5am after a 3:30am wake-up and all the last-minute preps that take place before a big journey. A few miles down the road in what Charlie calls his old “crummy,” his beat-up old pick-up truck packed thick with gear and tools thrown everywhere, Charlie lets out a guffaw, remembering that we forgot to grab the bait. And he decides we’ll make do with the handful of bait he had from his last trip. (Fortunately, we have a fair amount of spoons, plugs and flashers, but we ration the bait carefully throughout our trip.)

Once we untie the boat and slip out of the harbor, we let out a sigh of relief, knowing that whatever we forgot we’ll have to make do without. We spend the rest of the day making the long traverse along Clarence Strait around Prince of Wales Island. Trolling boats troll at about 2.5 knots but “run” at 7 knots, which isn’t much, so it takes a while to make the journey to Charlie’s favorite July king salmon spot.

At some point during the late afternoon Charlie tells me that we’re coming up on a “whale-y” spot. Rounding Point Baker, I get out my binoculars. The water gets choppy here, but just as Charlie predicted, we see a family of orcas “finning,” showing off their massive dorsal fins not far from the boat. The largest male has a fin that is easily 6 feet high or more and it appears that he and some other adults are showing a younger orca how to hunt. A few minutes later we see a little mountain peak in the distance and a family of humpbacks.

That night, we anchor at Anchor Lab Bay near Labouchere Bay at the north end of Prince of Wales Island after a long day of “running.”

The next morning begins with the first of two “big sea crossings” from Labouchere Bay to the water in between Kuiu Island and Coronation Island, where a few months before a fellow co-op member’s beautiful schooner, the F/V Masonic, got stuck on the rocks, requiring a Coast Guard rescue in the middle of the night. Fortunately, all crew survived, most likely because of the high level of preparedness of the fishermen on board. But the Masonic, stuck on the rocks, unsalvageable, eventually gets pulled off the rocks by the powerful currents to find the bottom of the sea.

The second crossing is the 15 miles of open water between Coronation Island and Cape Ommaney. The sea is rough and I take a Dramamine and get a little drowsy during the crossing but spot an albatross and puffins at points far enough out to sea that we can’t see land through the thick marine air.

As we round Cape Ommaney and the southern corner of Baranof Island, I spot humpback whales preparing to bubble feed in Larch Bay and then again a bit further up in Puffin Bay.  

Late in the afternoon, we anchor in another bay, which I won’t name, where we spend the night. If you’ve never been around Baranof Island in a small vessel or flying above the island in a float plane, it’s hard to comprehend just how jagged and defined the island is with little bays and nooks and crannies. Makes you realize just how small you are being in these remote wild places.

Baranof Island Southeast Alaska
The jagged bays of Baranof Island, southeast Alaska.

Each bay has its own character, but this bay is special. You’re greeted by a very narrow entrance. On each side of the bay, you’re surrounded by what I called the Cliffs of Insanity in honor of my wife’s favorite movie The Princess Bride. Trees are growing out of rocks on the vertiginously steep cliffs. The cliffs are way too steep to log and the forest is ancient—yet you can tell that the area is renewed constantly by its remoteness and the constant storms. There’s a big waterfall at the back of the bay, and it isn’t until the second day of fishing, when the sun comes out, that I also see the glaciated mountain range that feeds the waterfall draining into the bay.

At 4am on July 1st, after our long journey, fishing hooks are finally in the water for the start of the southeast Alaska first summer commercial troll king salmon opener. Once the hooks are in the water, we go back to the wheelhouse and listen to the forecast on the Coast Guard radio station: “Low 60s, Northwest wind, 20 knots. Seas, 6 feet.” Boats are scattered around us. Some fishing 40 fathoms deep out at the edge a mile or so out from us, but we’re fishing at 25 fathoms running our lines in between the humps, the rock structures deep underwater where large king salmon lurk. And there’s only one other boat nearby, whose captain also must also have knowledge of the maze of humps.

Each trolling wire might pull 8 to 12 leaders. We use 8 leaders on each wire. The wires attach to trolling poles. Charlie has two sets of trolling poles—the bow and stern poles. Other trolling boats might have all 4 wires come off two poles, and there are pros and cons to both set-ups. You can see the pairs of trolling poles clearly on our Alaska Gold Seafood logo, and they are what give trolling boats their distinctive look. If you’re ever in Alaska on the water and see these boats with that distinctive profile and the trolling poles that make the shape of a fly’s wings, you’re looking at a classic trolling boat. They really don’t make ‘em like that any more.

The distinctive look of a salmon trolling boat.

Beyond washing dishes and sometimes cooking and keeping Charlie company, my job is to “run the lines.” Running the lines means operating a hydraulic gurdy that pulls the trolling wires up from the bottom. As the hooks come in, you check to make sure they’re not twisted, hooks aren’t bent, they’re not fouled with little jellyfish or seaweed or other debris. It looks a lot easier than it is. Charlie can run the lines without stopping the gurdy, but every time I run the lines without stopping the gurdy, I feel like the scene from the 1950s classic television show “I Love Lucy” when Lucy and Ethel are in a chocolate factory. The hooks pass me by just like the chocolate does for Lucy and Ethel.

Salmon trolling gurdies.

On each trolling pole, there is a bell. This bell rings when there is a tug on the line. Depending on the particular tonal qualities of the ring of the bell, you can get an idea of what’s on the end of the line. When Coho salmon hit the line they make a sharp ding-a-ling of the bell that soon stops. When king salmon hit, they make a big thump and a lower toned ring. You might see the wire on the trolling pole bounce up and down like a trampoline when a big king salmon hits. Each ding-a-ling gets me excited, although it must be noted that one of my lines—Charlie assigns me the two stern pole wires—is a bit more sensitive, so small fish seem bigger or just scraping the bottom gets me excited as if there were a fish on the line.

At 6am, we get our first fish. At 8 pounds, it’s at the very small end of the scale. Our second and third fish come in at 8:15 in a calmer part of the bay. The third is a 20-pounder, which makes Charlie happy.

We end the day with 20 fish. Charlie had written down 25 king salmon as a goal for the day, so we were a little disappointed that we didn’t meet our goal. Two of our kings weighed in at 21 pounds. One of these bigger fish was a white king salmon, which tend to be on the bigger side and also tend to fight harder, as Charlie has told me in the past, and it was definitely true today. The white king gave a big tug and was difficult to bring in. We sell the rare white king salmon or ivory king salmon here. Charlie maybe doesn’t catch quite as many fish as some of the younger highliners in the fleet, but his size average is exceptional. “They don’t pay you by the eyeball,” he winks at me. 

Charlie scratched in his notebook that the fish bit on a range of plugs, hootchies, and spoons, with no definitive lure being the clear winner. Each plug, flasher and hootchie is tied to a leader that is then tied to a trolling wire. Charlie has them separated at strategic distances for the depth at which we’re fishing. Each day is different and it’s worth noting what depths and lures are more successful than others.

Charlie tells me that plug fish tend to be bigger. Charlie also ties plugs onto much longer leaders. And it always feels like the lines that Charlie has assigned me catch the plug fish. It might be hard to believe but even when commercial fishing it’s very sporty to fight a large king salmon. You wrap the leader around your gloves, so basically you’re fighting a fish by hand. When the leader is 120-feet long, as it is for one of the plugs on my line, it can become quite a battle. You have to be careful where you drop your spare leader and it can become quite a mess on the boat. A fish can take off really fast while you’re bringing it in. If you’re not careful, the fish can snap the leader or slip off the hook with a jump and a little bit of slack in the line. At one point, I lose a 30+ pounder when I gaff the fish but don’t keep the gaff hook pointing up as I brought the fish over the rail.

Did I mention that there is a lot of heartache in fishing? During some of these moments my heart sinks and all I can do is wail at the sea.

At the same time, I can understand why somebody would give up a high-paying desk job to take a thrashing and a bruising to do this for 18 hours a day in the summer. It’s quite a thrill when everything works out.

It’s remarkable how unadulterated trolling is as a food production method. In an age in which everything is automated, digitized, modified, processed and re-processed, and iterated to function at its maximum efficiency, here I am fighting 20+-pound king salmon with my bare hands. 120-foot leader wrapped in my palms, one arm-length at a time, the king salmon tugging hard on the plug at the other end.

The sea is quite “roll-y” when we’re doing all of this. On my first morning, the tea mug went flying, spilling tea everywhere, after hitting a big wave, and I had to find a better way to secure it when it wasn’t in my hands. Later in the day, I was also thrown out of my seat and I had to remind myself to hold onto something. Always. Everything is difficult, but satisfying.

This isn’t “Deadliest Catch,” but the boats are smaller, the working conditions sometimes precarious and cramped, the hours long, and you’re awfully close to the water, especially when the ocean gets “roll-y.” Getting up out of your seat in the wheelhouse is difficult, as the boat sways up and down in the rolling waves. Walking out of the pilot house and then around the hatch, up and over the fish checker into the trolling pit means that every step is a small adventure. You literally have to be holding onto a rope with each step. You can’t let go for a second. There are no guardrails, no “Caution” signs. Moving one arm to the next rope you have to make sure the other arms is firmly planted to the next rope. If you let go of something on the boat, you will end up in the sea and most likely perish if quick thinking and a bit of luck don’t prevail. After my trip, I’ve got bruises on my hips, that had been banging into the stove, the door, the hatch, and the pilothouse every time I tried to move to the trolling pit from wheelhouse with the seas banging the boat around. I’ve got bruises on my elbows from where I crashed into the hatch.

Working on an old wooden fishing boat.

Yet, in an age in which most of us sit behind a desk and click, few occupations are as fulfilling as producing pure, pristine food.

Day two: By 6:30am, we have bites on all 4 trolling wires. “We hit a clatter of king salmon,” Charlie says with the bells ringing. There were even 4 kings on one wire. “We’re in the cookie jar,” as Charlie likes to call a hole right in the calmer section of water just outside of the bay. “The first most important thing in fishing is location. The second is location. The third is location,” Charlie notes in one of his many lessons for the day.

Beyond location, there is another key factor to success in fishing: minimizing gear failures. As Charlie said to me at the beginning of the trip: Fishing is constant problem-solving. There are fouled lines, broken lines, broken auto-pilots, bad knots, bent hooks. He described a time when one of his trolling poles broke and he pulled into Port Alexander, chopped down a tree, and made a new trolling pole, and went out fishing again as soon as he could.

On this busy morning of fishing with the fish biting, we spent an hour trying to throw a grappling hook at the tag line to snap it back onto the trolling wire. “A fisherman thinks in 3 dimensions, sometimes 4. You’re running lines, steering the boat, watching out for rocks and other obstacles and certainly other boats who might or might not be on the same trolling tack as you. Obviously, you’re fishing. But you’re gaffing the fish, you’re cleaning them, and oh, you’ve got to go ice them once they’re clean,” Charlie notes.

In fishing, nothing is certain. Nothing comes for free.

It takes great athleticism to get a gaff hook properly through the gill plate of a thrashing salmon in the water 2 feet below where your feet are wedged into the pit, so that you don’t fall out of the boat while you are gaffing. It takes strength to get the gaff hook through the gill plate and accuracy to make sure you get it right in the best spot, not on the meat or even worse in my situation, missing entirely and hitting the boat. A gaff hook into the meat would “number 2” the fish, reducing your pay on your fish ticket and missing the fish entirely is just frustrating.

After doing this all day, I confess to Charlie I lost my confidence after losing a large fish (close to 30 pounds) and his gaff hook, which slipped out of my hands and ended up in the ocean after another poor placement into the gill plate, causing another wail to the breeze. Charlie keeps calm and says, “Kendall, you’ve just got to let your boat fish and have confidence in yourself.” Rules for all of life, I can’t argue. And he gave me a really old gaff hook to use. “Here, you don’t have to worry if you lose this gaff.”

I get better each time running the lines. Slowly but surely the day becomes more productive. Charlie looks pleased. He talks to every fish that comes to the boat. If it’s a particularly large fish, he’ll talk to the fish while it’s on the line: “Hello, fish. Good to see you!” Talking to the fish relieves the tension.  Every time I bring fish over the rails, I let out a very deep breath, as if I had just survived a harrowing quest. “Breathe,” Charlie reminds me, just like my yoga teacher.

Charlie begins naming each fish. Fish number 32 is named “Dennis” after a basketball player with whom Charlie played at Port Angeles High School. The other fish all get names, some famous basketball players, others high school heroes, others become presidents and their corresponding currency bills, others just Charlie’s imagination wild at work. A hootchie named Fleming that he bought at the Fleming Paint Store in Sitka becomes the hero after getting a number of fish in a row.  

 “Thank you, Salmon,” he says with a twinkle in his eye each time he brings a salmon over the rails into the fish checker. As he does this, I realize the deep respect Charlie has for the fish.

The fish keep biting through the evening and it gets on 6:30-7 and we’re once again in a clatter of king salmon, the bells on the trolling poles ringing loud. I’m dead tired, hungry, have a headache, and Charlie asks me if we should give up for the evening and have dinner. I muster enthusiasm, “Are you crazy? We’re in a clatter of fish!” The bells on the trolling poles continue to ring ding-a-ling ding with the thumping tone of king salmon. A clatter indeed. We found Charlie’s cookie jar again. I sip some tea and keep on keeping on.

Trolling wires and bells.

Charlie puts a few sweet potatoes in the oven. When the potatoes are ready, we eat them plain with our hands as if the potatoes were cigars. Each of us accompany the potatoes with a can of ivory king salmon. No seasonings, no adornments—a simple but extremely satisfying meal. We keep bringing in fish and don’t quit until after 10pm. When we pull into the bay, we still must ice the last fish, anchor the boat, and put the gear away. There is no better sound than when Charlie turns off the engine once we are anchored. The engine has been humming from 3:45am until 10:30pm. It’s been a long day and we hit the sack sometime after 11.

King salmon in the fish checker.

On our third fishing day, we get a late start. 5:40am. Charlie had gotten up earlier to look and it was too foggy to even move out of our anchorage.

It’s still foggy, but there’s enough visibility to pull out of the anchorage. While running lines in the fog, I lose track of where we are until all of a sudden while bringing in a fish I could hear the waves crashing into the primitive rocky coast. By this time, I had thought we were several miles out to sea and I was surprised to hear the waves. “Charlie, we’re by the shore, almost on the rocks!”

“I know where we are!” Charlie gives me a hard time for being completely disoriented.

We start listening to the weather forecast again and it starts becoming a joke to us. This morning, it’s “haze,” as if the computerized weatherman voice is afraid to see the F-word. Fog. The computerized voice on the weather forecasts has started making us laugh. Yakutat becomes Yakoootick. It’s like a voice box. Other Alaskan coastal communities are also mispronounced.

It’s another busy day. Slow, but consistent. A slog. For dinner we make what Charlie calls “Crazy crust pizza” 1 cup flour, 2 eggs, 2/3 cup of milk, oregano, grated cheese. Mix and Pour into cake pan. We put it in his oil stove—maybe try 400 F for 20 minutes in your home stove. We used venison burger meat, but this recipe would work well with our Easy Salmon.

Fourth of July is another foggy day and we keep slogging on. Charlie puts on his fishing music.  “The sea has its blessings but there are very few perfect days. You have to sing to yourself to keep from being dismal,” he says. We listen to Stan Rogers, a Canadian folk singer. “This is one artist the whole family loves,” Charlie notes as we listen to “Barrett’s Privateers,” a sea shanty about a pirate.  We anchor in the back corner of Sandy Bay. Still foggy, we’re all by our lonesome on the Tuckahoe—no fireworks for Independence Day and a relatively early anchor.

July 5th and we overhear on the radio that the July commercial troll king opener will close at midnight. We listen to the Coast Guard radio station and eventually confirm the message we heard in other conversation on the radio. Once the Alaska Department of Fish & Game determines that the quota is nearly caught by the entire southeast Alaska troll fleet—based on fishing reports, processor reports, and their own research—they make the announcement of the closure. This quota number comes from a number calculated by biologists and from international treaty negotiations. It’s a very complicated task and the goal is to make sure that the king salmon stocks remain viable for future generations. There will be other openers throughout spring and winter, all with targeted quotas based on escapements and when certain stocks are projected to pass through regions.

It’s another foggy day and we fish outside of Whale Bay. And once again, it’s spooky not seeing where we’re going. The sun clears through from time to time and we see the beautiful Whale Bay in the distance, enjoying its glow only to see it disappear.

Toward the end of the day, I take a look at our scorecard for number of fish caught.

July 1st 20

2nd: 42

3rd: 34

4th : 15 (fog)

5th 14 (fog)

As I am closing my notebook with 14 fish for July 5th, there’s a thump on the line. I bring in and gaff the last king salmon of the trip. Our 15th of the day and 125th on the trip! We also caught 15 coho salmon. 1 sockeye, and roughly 140 pounds of rockfish.

We pull into Charlie’s secret anchorage in Still Harbor, part of Whale Bay. 10:15pm. In the fog, we  couldn’t see two landmarks that fishermen note on their entrance to Whale Bay–Dog rock and Wolf Rock. Charlie was disappointed not to show me.

The next day we’re up at 4am to run back to Sitka. It’s a gloriously sunny day. All the boats in the fleet need to unload their king salmon before going out fishing for coho salmon, for which they’ll be fishing a good chunk of the rest of the summer.

There’s a triumphant feeling upon return to our fishermen-owned plant in Sitka with a load of fish. And then a long wait. We call in on the radio once we’re in town and get the news that we’re about eighth in line. It takes about 2-3 hours to unload the fish from a boat and then re-ice the boat. There are 3 hoists and Charlie calculates roughly an eight-hour wait. Charlie takes a nap and I take off my fishing bibs and play my mandolin on the boat deck during an abnormally warm and sunny Sitka day. I play and watch the boats come by. I see the Astrolabe, a boat on which I had fished two summers ago and wave hello to Carter the captain, who usually fishes alone. Charlie wakes up and we all swap stories. Carter notes that fishing was hot up north where he was, though not on the Fairweather Grounds, where a good chunk of the fleet was fishing. The Astrolabe is a larger boat than the Tuckahoe, and Carter is not quite the mad scientist engineer that Charlie is, so the boat is a bit better organized. But the Astrolabe is a newer fiberglass boat, and I remember feeling much closer to being seasick on the Astrolabe. In fact, for over a week after fishing with Carter, every time I stood still I could feel a room sway like the sea. I’m either becoming more seaworthy with experience or the Tuckahoe was more stable in the sea. Both boats and both captains showed me a beautiful part of the world and an extraordinary craft. And I am forever grateful to both captains.

Delivering King Salmon
Delivering King Salmon to the Seafood Producers Cooperative dock in Sitka, Alaska.

As I have spent time with Carter and Charlie, I got to thinking about what we do in the office. We work to preserve a truly unique lifestyle. We work to preserve southeast Alaska coastal communities, which would struggle without independent small boat fishing families and the ancillary businesses that grow up around them. We work to preserve wildness. Without fishermen, there would probably not be the wild places that we see in Alaska. So much of the wildness of Alaska is in danger from development, mining and timber industries. Mining brings quicker profits to a few. But when managed well, as is the case with Alaska fisheries, Alaska seafood supports coastal communities and will support them into perpetuity. The money from fishing for the most part stays in the coastal communities and isn’t shifted to some foreign entity. Some of us prefer clean air and clean water over massive development. Yet, in terms of political clout, “the best we can hope for,” a fisherman once told me, “is to hold ground or lose just a little bit, and that’s a lot to wish for.” This fisherman’s statement seems to mirror the prospect that all of us who fight for the environment seem to face—we can at best hope to lose just a little. When the fishermen are gone, so are some of the lasts bit of somewhat pristine land and water left on the planet.

With Gratitude,

Kendall

Alaska Gold Seafood Customer Service rep Kendall Whitney with king salmon
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Savory Easy Salmon Hand Pies Quick Recipe

Hand pie made with wild salmon burger meat.

Easy Salmon Hand Pies Recipe Idea…

There are plenty of opportunities to create a wild salmon hand pie to your liking, so we are not posting a recipe here but a recipe idea to get you started creating fun Easy Salmon Hand Pies.

Easy Salmon Savory Hand Pies Recipe Idea: Mix uncooked Alaska Gold Easy Salmon Burger Meat with sauteed onion and celery, fresh tarragon, cream, and bread crumbs. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Roll out 6″ rounds of whole wheat pastry dough and fill with salmon mixture. Seal, egg wash, and bake at 400 degrees for 20-30 minutes.

The picture and recipe idea come to us from Beth Short-Rhoads and her Sitka, Alaska Fireweed Dinner Delivery Service.
#mealdelivery #handpies #SitkaAlaska #EasySalmon #WildSalmon #AlaskaGoldSalmon #WildAlaskaSeafood #nourishingmeals

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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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Wild Salmon Tasting Notes

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.

Wild Sockeye Salmon from Alaska
Wild Alaska Sockeye Salmon. Photo courtesy of Alaska Seafood.

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.

Enjoy,

The Folks at Alaska Gold Seafood

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Keta Salmon Curry with Lemongrass and Galanga Recipe

Wild Salmon Coconut Curry Recipe
Wild Salmon Coconut Curry Recipe from Samantha Ferraro of Little Ferraro Kitchen.

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.

2 tbsp. coconut oil

1 small shallot, sliced

2 garlic cloves, chopped finely

1 small jalapeno, seeded and chopped finely

1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and sliced

1 inch piece of galanga root, sliced

2 stalks of lemongrass, gently crushed

½ tsp. ground coriander

½ tsp. ground curry powder

2 tbsp. panang or red curry paste

1 tsp. brown sugar

1 can coconut milk

2 Alaska Gold keta salmon portions (6 ounces each)

Salt and pepper

Lime wedges

Cilantro and mint leaves

Sliced Fresno pepper

Add coconut oil to a large skillet and being to medium-high heat. Add sliced shallot, garlic and jalapeno and sauté until shallot is translucent but not browned.

Stir in the ginger, galanga root, lemongrass, spices and curry paste and sauté for 30 seconds. Then add in brown sugar and coconut milk and stir to combine.

Nestle in the salmon and season with salt and pepper. Place a lid on the skillet and cook for 6-7 minutes until curry mixture has thickened slightly and salmon is cooked through.

Once done, you can flake the salmon for easier serving and garnish with fresh cilantro and mint leaves, sliced chili and lime wedges.

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Do you know your fisherman?

Do you know your fisherman?

We’ve got all kinds of fishermen in our fleet. Some are poets, some are mathematicians. We’ve got painters, musicians, rocket scientists. Here’s Mike Rentel who comes from a mechanical engineering background with a minor in math and emphasis on machine design and metallurgy. With an MBA emphasis in finance and entrepreneurship and minors in philosophy and behavioral economics, Mike fishes with a crew that consists of a veterinarian and a cattle rancher, both of whom Mike considers smarter than himself.

Alaska Salmon Fisherman

Mike started fishing summers with his grandpa in high school, trolling out of Ilwaco near the Columbia River. After his grandpa passed away, he finished college, but started up again with a 32-foot pocket-seiner/gillnetter and in a couple of years moved up to leased crabbers and a crew of five doing “deadliest catch” king crabs and tanners in the North Gulf of Alaska in the winter while fishing dungies between Icy Bay and Yakutat in the spring.

Mike met his wife, a geology professor, while she was mapping the sea floor off the coast of Chilean Patagonia and Antarctica. As an engineer keeping all the water, heat and electrical systems running in the remote cold wilderness, she was impressed that Mike could fix just about anything. Being able to fix things on the fly is exactly what it takes to run a commercial fishing boat in Alaska, too.

This spirit of adventure, inherent in all of our fishermen, along with a knack for fixing things helped Mike and his wife win the Spirit of Admiralty sailboat race, the longest inland water sailboat race on the West Coast.

Eventually, Mike “downsized” to the Harmony Isle, a 42-foot Wahl/Seamaster freezer boat. “I specifically chose a freezer-boat because I was committed to producing the best quality seafood possible.”

Alaska Salmon

Mike spends winters in Madison, Wisconsin. As part of our fishermen-owned co-op, Mike is just one of the fishermen owners of our company.

We think what’s special about our Alaska Gold Seafood is that it comes from a fishermen-owned company. What we sell is the fish we catch. It’s not uncommon that the fish sold in many places isn’t what they say it is—the fish passes through many hands before getting to you the customer. Though our fishermen would love to personally deliver fish to you, we think purchasing from our website is almost as good. Fish fraud has been around since before the days when Jesus’s disciples fished the Sea of Galilee. Fishermen being underpaid for their hard work has also been a common practice since biblical times. Which is why fishermen-owned co-ops like ours were formed. As owners of the business, fishermen-owners control their own destinies. We’re quite proud of the work we do. We do it with integrity and transparency. And with a deep pride in our quality.

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What do you do with leftover salmon?

leftover salmon

What do you do with leftover salmon?

First, don’t cook or reheat it!

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.

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What’s so special about Alaska Gold Salmon? Wild Alaskan salmon is truly a gift

Whole Wild Coho Salmon and Fillet

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.

Rich and buttery, our wild king salmon portions are our most popular offering. Available in boxes of 6-portion, 5-pound and 10-pound boxes. Fill your freezer or get a group of friends to have our discounted 20-pound box of  king salmon portions delivered to your home. We also have ivory (white) king salmon , in addition to our absolutely delicious canned Southeast Alaska Line-Caught Ivory King Salmon.

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.

Click on this photo to see the story of our line-caught wild Alaskan salmon.

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How to cook Alaska Gold wild king salmon and coho salmon

King Salmon Fillet

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!

These tips will help you become a salmon pro:

1. Start with excellent quality salmon. The line-caught wild salmon delivered by Alaska Gold Seafood is of the best quality. This quality comes from the catch methods our fishermen use and the handling procedures on their boats. This quality extends all the way to our customers with careful temperature control and our Alaska Gold Customer Service.

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.

Our Alaska Gold Easy Salmon Burger Meat be made into burgers, tacos, even a breakfast hash for nutrient-dense, family-friendly meals. Check out the long list of Easy Salmon Recipes made by our customers.

 

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The Salmon Forest

 

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

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

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

Wild salmon are the fertilizer upon which an entire forest grows. As a keystone species in the Tongass Rainforest in Southeast Alaska, wild salmon bring marine nutrients inland and provide an important food resource for a variety of animals. These nutrients also increase the productivity of nearby plants and forests. Mammals from mice to grizzly bears feast on spawning salmon. So do bald eagles and ravens, as do many other birds. Birds and mammals fly off with or drag carcasses into surrounding forests, bringing marine-derived nutrients for the forests around salmon-bearing streams. Up to 70% of the nitrogen intake for plants and trees in the Tongass Rain Forest can be traced back to wild salmon. The trees in the forest grow, provide shade, cooling the water, making it the ideal temperature for the salmon to spawn. This full circle relationship also involves Southeast Alaskan fishermen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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