Back in September of 2012, I was invited by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI) on a press tour to Sitka, Alaska where I spent 3 inspiring days learning about sustainability, wild Alaska fisheries, the local economy and the environment. I was thrilled to be a part of this group and to explore this corner of the world I have been eager to visit for many years.
I joined a group of food writers, bloggers and chefs on this adventure.
We fished, cooked, tasted and discovered.
I knew a bit about Alaska already through my friend Jill who had spent three years living in Fairbanks. I remembered her photos and tales of the natural beauty, glaciers, and wildlife. I was intrigued by the rawness of it all.
I flew all the way from Florida to Sitka, via Atlanta and Seattle. I took that time to learn a little bit more about the state and I studied its map carefully. Did you know that the entire state of Alaska is as wide as the distance between Florida and California? Over 1.5 million square meters making it the largest state in the United States, but also the least densely populated. The Artic to the north, Canada to the southeast and Russia to the west.
Sitka is located on Baranof Island in the southern tip of the state and it can only be accessed by air or boat. It has an oceanic climate making it very rainy, foggy and mild for Alaskan standards.
I arrived on a rainy afternoon and met the rest of the group in town.
The enthusiasm and excitement were palpable amongst all of us. We knew this was the opportunity of a lifetime and we were ready to learn.
We walked into town to get our fishing licenses that same afternoon as there was lots of fishing to be done the following morning.
The Talon Lodge became our base camp. A beautiful fishing lodge on a small island off the Sitka shoreline that provided the boats, the gear, the guides, the food, the beds… all for a perfect and comforting experience. (I even had one of the best craneosacral massages I have ever had!)
We were up bright and early on our first official day.
A hearty breakfast and a full day of fishing awaited us. We were ready with our fishing suits and wellies. I was a bit intimidated as I have never been fishing on a boat and because I am not the strongest person in the world, both physically and emotionally. I have fished before and every time, it has been difficult to watch the fish die. I must acknowledge that an animal must pass for us to eat it. Not easy to take some time, is it?
Rain and rough waters were forecasted. Very rough indeed.
This is when we learned about the different fisheries in Alaska and their seasons. Halibut season had just come to an end so we were focused on salmon, of course, rockfish and crabs.
We learned about the five different varieties of salmon and their different characteristics. The coveted King with its high oil content and delicate texture, Sockeye with deep red flesh and firm, Coho which are similar in taste to the King but firmer and red-orange flesh, Chum or Keta are desireable because they combine economy and great texture, and the abundant Pink which tends to be lower in price and is normally canned.
We were incredibly lucky to have two chefs amongst us, Dan and Patrick. With their guidance, we tasted all varieties of salmon that evening. Studied their flavor, texture and color and learned about different preparations from grilling, smoking, curing to sautéing.
We also ate lots of crab and shellfish and I can attest that king crab is still my favorite. So much of it.
It was a feast for the senses.
I was also very curious about sustainability and the economic impact on the community.
Alaska boasts having one of the world’s few governments that is truly dedicated to sustainability through responsible fisheries management and ensuring overfishing never occurs. Fishing is the livelihood of much of the state’s population and it was apparent how they are willing to protect their waters and environment. I sensed the independent spirit of the west for sure, which I always find very inspiring.
We toured inside a working boat with a crew of 4 to 5 men. Saw how they fish, work and live.
One of the most fascinating moments from the entire trip was when we got to watch the salmon swim upstream – where they are born and where they go to die. Did you know that when salmon lay their eggs they begin to spawn and they completely change their appearance? I had never seen anything like it and there we had it – a stream full.
It was intense.
On our last day, we also took a hiking trip through many of the trails around Sitka with moss and mushrooms growing everywhere – a rainforest in Alaska.
We also visited a small farm where cubs and other animals are rescued. They had the most beautiful sheep and goats. Varieties I had never seen before.
So I left Alaska understanding a bit more about what it takes to manage a sustainable fishing industry, appreciating the different varieties of salmon and their subtleties, and most importantly, wanting to go back for more.
I must take my family back.
I know how much Jon and Miren would appreciate harvesting the food they love. Even be there for salmonberry season. Definitely for the natural beauty.
Thank you Larry and ASMI for hosting us and Bertram for all your knowledge and hospitality.
I shall return.