Love Song to Wild Salmon

Cooking shows, blogs, and cook books these days love to expound upon the merits and cooking methods of ‘farmed’ versus ‘wild’ salmon. This totally neglects the fact that there are five species of wild Pacific salmon: Chinook (king, Oncorhynchus tschawytsha), Coho (silver, Oncorhynchus kisutch), Sockeye (red, Oncorhynchus nerka), Chum (dog, Oncorhynchus keta), and Pink (humpy, Oncorhynchus gorbuscha); and one Atlantic salmonid species (Atlantic salmon, Salmo salar—actually a trout) which is commercially extinct and has been adapted to salmon farming. One of the wonders, and vulnerabilities of wild salmon is that they are uniquely adapted to their spawning environment. This results in countless genetically unique stocks of each species, each returning to spawn in a very specific portion of a watershed at a specific time of year and after a specific number of years in freshwater followed by a specific number of years in salt water. These unique adaptations result in very different eating qualities. Through my career as a fisheries biologist, fisherman, and having been raised on a sockeye lake, I’ve had the honor of getting to know many of these stocks.
During my undergraduate education I was fortunate enough to be able to work during the summers for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game as a fisheries technician. I took my summer work as an opportunity to explore Alaska, which is otherwise large, remote, and expensive to travel around. My first major exploration was to take a job on a weir on a tributary of the upper Kuskokwim River. I flew into McGrath, a roadless town of about 400 people 220 air miles northwest of Anchorage, in early June. My partner met me at the plane and we shopped and loaded our river boats with the weir materials. Having perhaps slightly exaggerated my river boating experience in the short phone interview that got me the job, I was somewhat daunted to be given command of the smaller of the two boats and sent on my way upriver with instructions to avoid snags close to shore and take the first right and then the first left. He would follow me in the second, faster riverboat in about an hour, after completing a little more shopping. My boating experience to date was considerable, but none of it involved navigating large, fast-moving, muddy rivers full of snags and sand bars in a heavily loaded, flat-bottomed riverboat with a propeller-driven outboard engine. One thing you learn early as a woman in a man’s profession is to show no fear, pain, or uncertainty. So, I gamely headed upstream, white knuckling the outboard tiller and squinting at every muddy swirl in an attempt to avoid hazards. After about an hour underway, I was beginning to relax. I’d successfully navigated the first turn and saw the next one right ahead. It was a beautiful sunny day and I was enjoying the solitude, just then the boat ground to one of those engine-screaming, propeller-mud-flinging stops that every riverboat operator dreads. I was high on a sand bar and heavily loaded with 50-gallon drums of gas and metal weir pickets, there was no way I was going to get off by myself. Happily, 15 bug-ridden minutes later, my partner arrived, and we were able to shift my load into his boat enough to float me off and resume our trip upstream.

It was the beginning of a beautiful summer. We built a weir and field camp and counted about 200 king salmon in the three-month field season. This left plenty of time to explore the area, part of the dreaded Fairwell Burn (a nightmarish stretch of the Iditarod trail famed for its fire-killed trees, wind, and sparse snow) by riverboat. We visited neighboring fish camps, eating dry fish strips and taking steam baths. The abundant dead trees make the area a summer bird mecca and we saw owls and discovered osprey nests in our forays. We were on a clear-water tributary and so could see the king salmon well. They were large, and very red so close to the spawning grounds. We didn’t kill any, but our fish camp neighbors gave us some steaks and they were still amazingly pink-fleshed, fatty and delicious despite being so close to spawning grounds. They were very special fish. We kept a clean camp and saw few brown bears that summer, they are much less dense in the interior of Alaska.

So, you might be wondering by now what is my point in relaying this story? I think it is that when you eat wild salmon you are participating in an ecosystem and that concomitant with that participation comes a commitment to preserve and protect.
Some years later, I participated in the troll fishery for king salmon in Southeast Alaska. I have a particularly strong memory of one day. After much agonizing, Tom had decided that we’d begin our King salmon troll season at Point Amelia, on West Kruzof Island. It turned out to be an excellent decision. We caught over 100 king salmon that sunny morning. So far from the spawning grounds, each was a bright beautiful bullet of a fish, with individuality suggesting their varying origins in their underlaying glints of maroon, green or blue. Salmon trolling was a wonderful experience. It combines applied biology with the hunter-gatherer’s joy of being in the moment, alternating with long periods of boredom. We trolled alongside humpback whales, peacefully sharing the fishing grounds, and fished for cohos in offshore jelly fish forests—visible only on the sonar and on our lines when they were pulled to the surface. The coho stomachs there were filled with the juvenile cod that shelter in jelly fish forests.
Fast forward to today and king salmon stocks in many areas of Alaska are in trouble. Stocks are declining and the size of salmon returning to spawn has decreased dramatically. There is uncertainty as to what is causing these problems, but it seems to be a result of reduced marine survival and growth. Earlier juvenile outmigration (because of warming rivers) at a time when the ocean food conditions are poor could reduce survival. Other potential reducers of marine survival include: interception by non-target fisheries, and impacts to high seas migration by ocean current changes. Slowed growth may be being caused by ecosystem changes, caused either by climate change, or by excessive hatchery releases of pink and chum salmon. There are many efforts underway to enhance sustainability of our wild salmon stocks. Join the struggle!
Oven-Broiled King Salmon

King salmon is probably my favorite wild Pacific salmon, but I love coho and sockeye too. Chum roe is delicious in sushi or as an appetizer or garnish (Chum roe has the highest price because its eggs are largest, next comes pink, coho, king, and finally sockeye salmon). Chums and pinks make great salmon burgers. Here is my favorite recipe for oven-broiled king salmon. I don’t trust myself with it on the grill, I’ve lost too many belly strip pieces between the grates! My mouth is watering just thinking about it, time to run to the grocery store.
Tools:
broiler pan
knife
ziplock bag
small bowl
wire whisk

Ingredients:
2 lbs King salmon steaks
½ c soy sauce
½ c brown sugar
4 T sesame oil
2 T yellow miso
4 T grated ginger
½ t crushed red pepper
Juice of 1 lemon
½ t black pepper

Instructions:
Mix marinade ingredients together, pour into zip lock bag.
Add king salmon steaks.
Marinate for ½ to 2 hours.
Heat broiler pan under broiler for 5-7 minutes at highest oven rack position.
Put king salmon steaks on broiler pan, return to oven, broil for about 7 minutes or until just beginning to caramelize.
Baste with marinade, switch oven to bake at 400 F.
Bake for about 12 minutes depending upon thickness of steaks until just beginning to flake.
Serve with rice.

Resources
www.standforsalmon.org
www.seacc.org
www.akmarine.org
https://alaskaconservation.org
https://www.tu.org

Edible Flowers

Its spring and there are so many tasty plants to gather that people sometimes neglect some of the more beautiful ones—edible flowers! I first tried this on the occasion of my sister Justine’s wedding. It makes such a beautiful addition to a wedding cake that I’d highly recommend anyone with a friend or family member having a Summer wedding coming up try it. I’ve given the recipe here for violets and salmonberry flowers but there are lots of other edible flowers. Nasturtiums, pansies, rose petals, zucchini, lilac, geraniums, begonias, borage, and lavender; to name a few, are all also edible. That being said, I think sugaring probably works best on delicate flowers because they dry rapidly.

Sugared Violets and Salmonberry Flowers
Tools:
Small paint brush

Ingredients:
10 freshly picked violets
10 freshly picked salmonberry flowers
1 egg worth of powdered egg whites (don’t use fresh, this avoids salmonella)
6 drops 100-proof vodka
Superfine (caster) sugar

Instructions:
Resuscitate egg whites and beat until frothy. The addition of vodka will help the flowers dry more quickly. Paint each flower thoroughly with the beaten egg white mix. Set on wire rack to dry. Once sugared, the flowers last up to a year in the fridge if they are kept dry. Store in air tight container and layer with paper towels.

 

IMG_0360 (2)
Sugared yellow violet and salmonberry flowers.

 

In Praise of Native Landscaping: Permaculture Your Yard!

When I was a 10-year-old tomboy I had strong ideas about trees, I remember spending a tear-streaked afternoon with my arms wrapped around my favorite climbing tree, a red alder (Alnus rubrus), which my father was determined to fell (In his defense, light is at more of a premium than native trees in Southeast Alaska). In the end, I prevailed and that Alder, plus another some years later, survived. Their survival was because of both my stubbornness and my father’s love of native trees and shrubs. Over the years he transplanted many into our yard. He also loved other trees though and was an eternal optimist. He planted various maples (Acer), a Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), and some Birch (Betula) trees, a flowering plum and others into the yard. I remember a surge of enthusiastic excitement with the introduction of each new exotic tree as visions of fresh cherries, or plums danced through my head. None of them ever bore fruit however, and I survived the disappointment as the much-vaunted fruit trees gradually drowned or were eaten by porcupines, beavers or bear. In the end several of the maples, the birch and the Douglas fir did survive.
My early passion for those red alder trees is now bearing fruit in the form of birdwatching opportunities. The winter flocks of pine siskins and redpolls virtually ignore the maples and Douglas Fir, as they enjoy the alder seeds. In the Spring the alders flower and warblers hawk for insects in their branches while robins anoint their crowns with song each morning and evening, nesting in a secret crook in one of the trees. In addition to the red alder, the 2-acre yard of my family home has native crabapple (Malus fusca), Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis), Western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla), Sitka mountain ash (Sorbus sitchensis), red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa), salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis), cow parsnip (Heracleum maximum) , blueberry (Vaccinium spp.), skunk cabbage (Lysichiton americanus), devils club (Oplopanax horridus), rusty menzesia (Menziesia ferruginea), and winter chanterelle mushrooms (Craterellus tubaeformis). Red-breasted sapsuckers (Sphyrapicus ruber) and hairy woodpeckers (Picoides villosus) flit between the hemlocks, while song sparrows (Melospiza melodia) nest in brush piles, and red cross bills (Loxia curvirostra) and pine grosbeak (Pinicola enucleator) binge on crab apples and mountain ash berries.
This plethora of native vegetation and its location on a salmon lake also brings many mammal visitors to our home. Black bear (Ursus americanus), beaver (Castor canadensis), river otter (Lontra canadensis), porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum), and Sitka black-tailed deer (Odocoileus hemionus sitkensis) often grace the yard. It is not always an easy sharing of space, however. The black bears ruined several mountain ash trees by climbing them to eat their berries in the fall and their occasional transit through the yard causes a general evacuation of humans. Their presence also necessitates a cessation of bird feeding each spring as they come out of hibernation. Beavers felled several prized exotic crabapple trees, and porcupines have demolished raspberry bushes and been subject to dog attentions that required the dogs get expensive veterinary care. The deer’s passion for hostas often leaves them lopsided. The deer also enjoy the ‘lawn’ (quotes denoting the fact that it is more buttercup, dandelions, moss, and violets than grass). The lawn composition is because I stopped liming and fertilizing it a few years ago after noticing that the lily pads in the lake are being replaced by horsetail and that freshwater mussels have disappeared. I think it is possible that these effects are a result of changed water chemistry due to runoff of lawn fertilizer and herbicides.
We still maintain flower beds, a few pots of vegetables, and a rhubarb and raspberry patch but the native vegetation provides harvest values to us as well. We pick blueberries, salmonberries, and chanterelle mushrooms from the yard, and cut the occasional tree for fire wood. This year I’m going to try eating the cow parsnip for the first time as I’ve called a (sheepish) truce on poisoning it with Round Up. (Honestly, it’s the only thing I’ve ever used Round Up on and I’m not proud, but it does cause a terrible rash if brushed up against by a lawn-mowing human.) I’ve also been seeing that Scandinavians use mountain ash sprigs (they call it ‘Rohan’ which sounds much more edible) and I’m going to try that too!
So, look around your area, see what the birds and mammals are eating and bring some trees and shrubs home. You’ll save time trying to force the land to be something different from what it wants to be, and money buying exotics and make a lot of birds and animals happy in the process! (Also you can tell everyone you’re into Permaculture and you’ll sound really hip!)

“Friends Don’t Let Friends Eat Farmed Salmon” or: 12 Things You Can Do to REALLY Conserve Wild Salmon, “How to be a Salmon Warrior”

I used to have one of these bumper stickers on my bulletin board at work. Eventually though, its meaninglessness led me to take it down. Honestly friends, the issue of Farmed vs. Wild salmon is not one to be resolved by plastering bumper stickers on our cars or sharing Facebook memes describing the nutritional deficits and chemical poisons in farmed salmon. To be straight, this is a battle we are currently losing. The salmon farmers are panting at our collective doors with their beady little eyes at our keyholes and unless we get serious about conservation of wild salmon we’ll be giving them our spare keys and pulling down our knickers.
OK. Enough crudeness and bad metaphors, have I got your attention? We’ve been smart, gutsy and visionary enough to establish regulations prohibiting salmon farming early in the game but now continued maintenance of wild salmon populations in the state of Alaska is going to take the collective will power of all of us. It’s the little things that make the difference friends, our salmon rivers, lakes, streams, ponds, and ditches are currently dying the death of 1,000 cuts in the name of progress and economic growth. As Alaskans, we still think this land is limitless and that we can have our cake and eat it too, and I include myself in this category.
So, if slapping a bumper sticker on our car and sharing Facebook memes isn’t enough what can we do to keep every little Bay or Harbor in Southeast and Southcentral Alaska from sprouting a salmon farm? Here’s a list:
1.) Don’t build houses on salmon rivers, and in Alaska ALL our rivers are salmon rivers, so I amend that to: Don’t build houses along rivers.
2.) Oppose logging forests along salmon streams.
3.) Oppose pollution of salmon rivers with mine tailings.
4.) Don’t poison your driveway or lawn with herbicides like RoundUp or Weed n Feed—it’ll end up in a salmon river or lake somewhere.
5.) Eat organic vegetables and limit your consumption of farmed meat so that you’re not contributing to runoff of excess fertilizer or poop from feed lots into rivers and estuaries where it will create oxygen-deficient zones killing baby salmon and other fishes.
6.) When a public official tells you No (No permit to fill wetlands, No fishing until a stock rebuilds, No permit to build a new salmon hatchery) don’t go running to your Daddy the elected official and tell him how mean they were to you.
7.) Support high density housing to avoid cutting down more forests so that we can all live the American suburban dream.
8.) Oppose increased hatchery releases (unless targeted to rehabilitate a wild stock), particularly adjacent to salmon rivers where hatchery stock are likely to stray into wild rivers.
9.) Oppose hydroelectric projects on salmon rivers.
10.) Donate to environmental organizations if you don’t have the time or inclination to stay on top of these issues yourself.
11.) Teach a child how to conserve wild salmon.
12.) Get out there and catch a salmon and share it with your neighbor!

So to those of you who have stuck with this tirade, I’m sorry to ruin your day but if you really want to be a Salmon Warrior its just not that easy. But its oh so worthwhile when we come home from a days fishing or the grocery store with a beautiful wild salmon for dinner!

Additional Resources:

http://www.StandForSalmon.org
http://www.akmarine.org
http://www.akcenter.org
http://www.supportnature.org/
http://www.ak.audubon.org
http://www.discoverysoutheast.org

 

Marine Protected Areas

I spent several years of my career managing fisheries. I worked hard at it but honestly, I wasn’t that great. It wasn’t for lack of trying, or lack of knowing what I was talking about it was lack of being convincing to fishermen that resulted in my decisions being regularly overturned. This was a frustrating situation for everybody and I was eventually relieved of my management responsibilities. I bring this subject up not out of some masochistic need for self-flagellation but to highlight a point. Managing fisheries is hard. It is part science, part communication, part diplomacy, and honestly part magic I think. The portion of management which consists of science shrinks or expands depending upon the nature of the fishery. At any rate, it often leads to over fishing.
Another really difficult part of fisheries management is preventing the gear involved from damaging the habitat. This is particularly problematic for fisheries on hard bottoms or in areas with sensitive, long-lived, habitat-creating species like corals and sponges. Surprisingly, these species are not just in tropical areas, but are quite common in Southeast Alaska, and other areas of the State as well. When fisheries are young, and effort is low it is easy for fishermen to avoid these sensitive areas. Invariably, however, the dance of intensification begins with the implementation of limited entry creating a wave of increased vessels entering the fishery resulting in managers shortening seasons to limit catch and fishermen fishing harder with more gear. Eventually it becomes next to impossible to avoid sensitive habitat.
Since my time at Glacier Bay I have been interested in the role of Marine Protected Areas (but fully protected, not just protected from commercial fishing) in providing for sustainable fisheries. Correctly designed, these protected areas can act as ‘insurance policies’ for fisheries in several ways. First, they preserve the intact ecosystem for study, so biologists can continue to improve their understanding of the species. Without such areas it is hard to say if observed changes in a species (such as declining size in king salmon and sablefish) are a result of the fishery, or the environment, making design of an appropriate response difficult. Second, they act as nurseries, exporting larvae and adults to adjacent areas. In New Zealand and the Canary Islands marine protected areas which were initially fought tooth and nail are providing such benefits that they are now advocated for by both commercial and recreational fishermen. Third, marine protected areas protect habitat too vulnerable to be exploited without destruction. Fourth, they prevent the ‘sliding baseline’ syndrome wherein each new generation of biologists and fishermen become accustomed to and accept a new lower level of ecosystem productivity. Finally, Alaska is currently reeling from global climate change effects which are predicted to hit high latitude areas harder than elsewhere in the world. Alaska’s fisheries developed later than the lower 48 and we have been able to implement policy to avoid many mistakes, making us a leader in sustainable fisheries in the nation and worldwide. Let’s continue that leadership by establishing a network of small, highly targeted marine protected areas throughout State and Federal waters of Alaska!

Eulachon

Spring is a hungry time in Southeast Alaska. In the late 1980s my dad and I were in Haines, working on a project to help minimize and mitigate impacts of the airport expansion on Sawmill Creek, a salmon creek which runs through the Haines airport wetlands. Sawmill Creek is a tributary of the Chilkat River, a large braided glacial river which winds through the Chilkat Valley. I was studying the rearing salmonids in the area by trapping them in Sawmill Creek and the bank of the Chilkat River bordering the airport. Besides salmonids, the Chilkat River boasts a substantial eulachon (Thaleichthys pacificus) population as well and it was also my job to describe its timing. To do this, I interviewed locals who gave me a general idea of its timing (run begins about mid-April) and indicated that more precise timing could be determined by observing the behavior and abundance of gulls, sea lions, and seals on the Chilkat River delta. A Juneau resident, I hired a local Haines resident to make observations for me, and when the abundance appeared to be peaking, travelled to Haines to sample eulachon. Eulachon are caught with dip nets in areas where rock outcroppings create deep back eddy’s just downstream. Their run timing varies each year and depends on when the river warms up. Eulachon enter the river at high tide and the bird and mammal activity at the peak of the run is intense. It was great to share in their joy at this important first spring wealth of feed.
Eulachon return to large glacial rivers to spawn mostly as 3 or 4 year-olds. Like salmon, most eulachon spawn only once and then die. The baby eulachon (larvae) drift back out to salt water to grow up after an in-river incubation period of about a month.
Eulachon (saak) also have an important cultural significance to Tlingit people in Southeast Alaska. Besides being a vital food source, they were historically rendered for oil (saak eexi) in canoes filled with hot rocks. This oil (Eulachon have a fat content of 18 to 20% of wet mass, higher than sand lance, capelin or herring. Their fat is unusual in that it is more similar to sharks than to other bony fishes.) became a stable source of nutrition and an important trade item with interior native peoples and the well-known Chilkoot trail used by miners in the 1800s to access interior gold deposits was first developed as a ‘grease trail’ by Tlingit peoples.
Because the Haines area eulachon fishery has always been for subsistence use only, many of the traditional Tlingit taboos (ligaas) designed to assure eulachon sustainability have survived to modern times. These taboos are still followed by some but not all harvesters and include: harvesting only after the run has made it a certain distance upriver, not throwing rocks into or swimming in the river, not wearing bright colors, making loud noises, or allowing garbage, dishwater, pots and pans, dogs, and even hands or feet in the water. Taboo also requires clean fishing areas and prohibits menstruating women from harvesting.
We are fortunate in Alaska to have eulachon runs in Southeast, Yakutat forelands, South Central, and Western Alaska areas. In Southeast Alaska we have eulachon runs in 27 rivers (in the Adams Inlet (Glacier Bay), Excursion R., Endicott R., Chilkat R., Chilkoot R., Ferebee R. (Lutak Inlet), Taiya R., Skagway R., Katzehin R., Berners R., Lace R., Antler R. (Berners Bay), Eagle R., Mendenhall R., Taku R., Speel R., Whiting R. (Port Snettisham), Bradfield R., Hulakon R., Grant Cr. (Bradfield Canal), Stikine R., Unuk R., Klahini R., Eulachon R. (Burroughs Bay), Chickamin R., Wilson R., Blossom R. (Smeaton Bay)). Eulachon runs have declined in British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, and California rivers. The declines are probably a result of combined effects of overharvest, habitat degradation, and changes in oceanic conditions resulting from global climate change.
Besides Eulachon, there are also several other species of smelt (Family Osmeridae) which spawn in Alaskan rivers and beaches. In the 1980s, when I was working counting out-migrating sockeye salmon smolts on a tributary of the Speel River in Snettisham Inlet, I found the carcass of a longfin smelt (Spirinchus thaleichthys) on the bank of the Speel River. There were wolves working the river mouth about the same time and I speculated that these smelt might be providing an important spring feed for them. Capelin (Mallotus villosus) are known to spawn on the beaches of the Yakutat forelands.
Since I last investigated eulachon, the declines in Lower 48 populations have resulted in a surge of interest in the populations and biology of Alaskan eulachon. Studies in the Haines/Skagway area have been ongoing since 2010. In the Haines area studies are spearheaded by the Takshanuk Watershed Council in cooperation with the Chilkoot Indian Association, and Oregon State University, while in the Skagway area the Gold Rush National Historic Park is taking the lead. The objective of these studies is to index or estimate adult spawning population size. Three different methods are being used: marking and recapturing adult eulachon, sampling environmental DNA, and sampling larval (baby eulachon) outmigration. In the Berners Bay area, eulachon have been studied from the standpoint of their importance as a forage fish, and interesting cooperative feeding behavior of Steller Sea lions (Eumetopias jubatus) targeting eulachon has been described.
I did not render my eulachon for oil but, after sampling a sufficient quantity, brined and smoked some. I also pan fried a few after dipping them in seasoned flour. The pan-fried eulachon were a little oily even for me but brined and smoked they were delicious! It’s been years since I dip-netted eulachon, but every spring I think about them and one of these years I’m going to go over and try my luck in Berners Bay where the Lace River has a nice spring eulachon run. I’ve tried to recreate my recipe here. Give it a try if you’re fortunate enough to get your hands on some eulachon!

Smoked Eulachon

Tools:
5-gal stock pot
Little chief smoker

Ingredients:
24 eulachon, heads and tails on, cleaned
4 c warm water
1 c soy sauce
¾ c brown sugar
¼ c sea salt
¾ T garlic

Instructions:
Combine brine ingredients, stir to dissolve and then leave until cool. Immerse whole eulachon in brine and refrigerate for 6 to 10 hours. Remove fish from brine, pat dry, and let air dry on racks of smoker at room temperature until glaze forms on fish surface. Smoke for approximately 4 hours until fish skin feels leathery but not crispy. Eat whole, crunching down bones and all—a great source of calcium as well as Omega 3 fatty acid.

 

Black Cod

It was in the late 1980s before limited entry, when 2 to 3-day ‘derby’ longline fisheries were still the norm in Southeast Alaska. We were three miles offshore Yakobi Island in a 100-year-old wooden troller, the F/V Delores, pulling black cod (also known as sablefish, species name Anoplopoma fimbria, not really a cod at all but a deep-water cod-like fish, very fatty and tasty) longline gear in building seas, when the diesel engine sputtered and died. My then-boyfriend, Tom had purchased the Delores for a song several years previously after her second sinking and repowered and resurrected her. She was 32-feet long at the waterline, but with her small cabin and double-ended hull design with gentle shear, she handled seas like a vessel twice her size. We had been baiting up in nearby Pelican for several days and had miles of longline gear out. Our work was paying off as the fishing was good: nearly every other hook had a large, beautiful black cod on it and our hold was filling fast.
Tom took one look below and announced that the engine room was full of water. We still had nearly a mile of longline gear out and it was a pitch-black night. As Tom disappeared below deck, I found myself alone in the darkened wheel house, wondering how long until the battery was submerged, killing the Loran-C and marine VHF radio. Near panic, I grabbed the VHF radio microphone and put out the call: “May Day, May Day, this is the F/V Delores,” giving our loran coordinates. This is the universally-accepted distress call for a vessel at sea. I later learned that numerous nearby commercial fishing boats, upon hearing our call, stopped pulling and began steaming towards us, losing precious fishing time. However, just then Tom emerged from below and the diesel sputtered to life as the bilge pumps cleared the engine room—hearing me, he turned off the VHF in horror. We buoyed off the longline gear, and quietly steamed for Pelican to offload our catch. I’ve always been grateful for the help we almost needed and embarrassed that I didn’t turn the radio back on and grab the microphone to let the fleet know we were alright. But under the circumstances I was happy to be underway, and quiet acquiescence seemed the best path. Probably the thing I missed most when my commercial fishing career abruptly ended after Tom and I split up was the sense of community on the water. The Coast Guard is great if they can get to you in time when you need them (and I am extremely grateful for the two times I have been rescued by them), but it’s more likely that another fisherman will help you out.
My culinary education on black cod had begun several years earlier in Japan. It is probably the tastiest beer-drinking food of the Japanese “salary man”. It is most commonly eaten marinated for a day in various combinations of sake-kasu (the solids leftover after fermenting rice into sake), miso, ginger, soy sauce, and rice wine vinegar and then broiled or roasted, although it is also excellent raw, as sashimi. I recently revived a version of what I remember eating in Tokyo, after an extensive hunt for the sake-kasu. Here is the recipe, however, if it as difficult for you as it was for me to find sake-kasu (I finally located an artisanal sake maker in Vancouver who shipped me some!) you can eliminate it and just use miso and the fish will still be delicious! Honestly, if you are a lover of rich, oily fish it is hard to ruin black cod. The oiliness of this fish also means its extremely high in Omega 3 fatty acids making it a very heart healthy food.
Sake kasu and Miso-marinated Broiled Black cod
Tools:
Broiler pan
Bowl
Whisk
Gallon ziplock bag
Ingredients:
2 lbs black cod filets or steaks
⅓ c sake-kasu
⅓ c yellow miso
⅓ c soy sauce
3 T sugar
⅓ c rice wine vinegar
3 T grated fresh ginger
Instructions:
Combine sake-kasu, miso, soy sauce, sugar, rice wine vinegar, and grated fresh ginger in bowl, whisk until smooth and put in gallon ziplock bag. Add black cod filets to ziplock bag, close and marinate in refrigerator for 40 minutes to 12 hours.
Turn broiler to high, preheat broiler pan for 5 minutes. Remove black cod from refrigerator, put on preheated broiler pan, return to oven with rack on second highest rung. Broil for 7 minutes until top of fish is just beginning to blacken. Turn oven to bake and set at 400 F. Finish cooking fish for another approximately 7 minutes (depending upon filet thickness) until fish is cooked through. This recipe serves 4, I like to serve it with short-grain brown rice.

Bristol Bay Red King Crab

During the heyday of the Bristol Bay red king crab fishery in the mid 1980s, I was working in Juneau as a Fisheries Technician and was given the opportunity to travel to Dutch Harbor to assist on a pilot tagging project being conducted by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Commercial Fisheries Division, research section based in Kodiak. They needed more trained dockside samplers to attempt tag recovery of PIT (passive integrated transponder) tags implanted in red king crab to test the feasibility of a full scale, field-level tagging project. The purpose of this project was to develop a tag not visually detectable externally. This was to address a problem with crab spaghetti tags being either lost during the molt or removed from by crew members to adorn their hats instead of returned to ADF&G for the paltry tag reward. Crab grow through a process called molting wherein they shed their old shell and grow a new one. Tags are used by biologists to study crab growth, movement, and harvest rate to provide for sustainable management.

As the crab boats pulled up to the UNISEA processing plant unloading dock, we dockside samplers went aboard, interviewed the skipper in the wheelhouse, and then sampled totes of red king crabs as they were offloaded. Stepping onto the vessel bridge and into the wheelhouse you entered a tiny fiefdom, the character of each determined by the captain, and generally reflected in the demeanor of the crew and quality of the red king crab catch. The unmistakable cream of the crop were the thick-accented, close-cropped, soft-spoken Norwegian skippers with their crew gliding efficiently in the background, responding efficiently to the Captain’s quiet commands. With their immaculate bridges and tidy decks, these operations were a joy to behold, and invariably yielded vigorous, lively crab with little dead loss. Below this gold standard there were bleary-eyed, leering captains with sullen, beer-swilling crew presiding over debris-strewn bridges with holds full of sluggish crabs and every level imaginable between. It was truly the ‘Wild West’ of the red king crab fishery; fortunes were being made while lives were lost and bodies ruined.

The research staff outside the processing plant inserted PIT tags into the tail of crabs and salted totes with the tagged crabs. Inside the processing plant, we samplers scanned crab with a PIT tag detector as we measured their carapace length and examined them for shell age. Only a few of us samplers had a good detection rate, and the effort was determined a failure and the method scrapped. Crab biologists worldwide are still struggling to develop a decent method to age crabs. Current crab growth research has several different avenues of investigation: the accumulated level of lipofuscin, a pigment in the crab’s eyestalk; distinguishing growth rings by sectioning hard parts in the crab’s stomach that are retained through the molt; and the idea of implanting crabs with ‘pearl’ seed which develop growth rings.

I returned to Dutch Harbor about 5 years ago, passing through enroute to a research cruise, and found it much changed, probably for the better. The ‘Wild West’ mentality had been replaced by an orderly and efficient company town.

Here is a decadent and fun recipe I like to use for leftover red king crab meat. Use it to wow your dinner party with fairly minimal effort!

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Seafood a la king

Tools:

Medium sauce pan

Cookie sheet

Ingredients:

10 oz cooked red king crab meat

10 oz cooked northern salad shrimp

1 box puff pastry shells

4 T butter

4 T all-purpose flour

2 c milk

½ t pepper

½ t salt

1/8 t nutmeg

Pinch cayenne

1 c frozen peas

½ a red pepper, chopped

1 T pimento

1 medium onion, chopped

4 dashes Worcestershire sauce

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 400° F. Put puff pastry shells on cookie sheet and bake for 15 min.
Pull crab and shrimp meat from refrigerator, allow to come to room temperature.
Melt butter, add chopped onions and red pepper and sauté until onion is translucent. Slowly whisk in flour until mixed. Add milk and heat, stirring constantly until mixture thickens. Season to taste with salt, pepper, nutmeg, and cayenne, remembering that the cooked crab is often somewhat salty. Add pimentos, capers, and Worcestershire sauce.
Fold in peas, cook until warmed.
Fold in room temperature crab and shrimp.
Spoon mixture over puff pastry shells and serve hot.

 

Pacific Halibut

Well, Alaska’s IFQ halibut and black cod fisheries opened March 1 and all the longliners that were tied up at the dock in Auke Bay are out fishing, yeah!! I really enjoyed the time I spent longlining. It’s a fishery that has changed very little in hundreds of years. Just brutally hard work over long hours with you, the boat, the ocean, the grounds and your shipmates. Traditionally, Alaska’s longline fisheries were plied by beautiful wooden North Sea longline schooners. You still see a few traditional longline schooners around, but at least in Southeast Alaska, the fishery these days is conducted more by a diversified fleet which also participates in a variety of other fisheries, trolling or seining for salmon, or fishing Dungeness, Tanner or king crab or shrimp. I participated pre-IFQ days in both halibut and black cod fisheries and declined IFQ permits for these fisheries when they were issued as I decided it would be a conflict with my job as a State fisheries biologist. One trip specifically is warm in my memory banks.
We were chugging slowly up Glacier Bay in our dinghy old troller, the F/V Delores, enroute to a halibut derby opening, deck stacked with metal tubs of longline gear painstakingly baited with herring and squid in Elfin Cove over the previous several days. We were excited to try out a new ground we’d scouted the previous year and Tom was strategizing about how to wrest the longline set from the only other boat in the area. The Ocean Gold, a gillnetter skippered by an ornery old cogger with snap-on gear. Tom had just taken the longline drum off the Delores and fitted her with a chute for setting tub gear, so we were strategically well-situated to command more than perhaps was our fair share of the grounds. Arriving on the grounds well ahead of the noon opening, we began running up and down the 200-fathom isobath outside and south of Tidal Inlet, planning the set and making sure we understood the bathymetry. Nautical charts, while useful, are data sparse. The grounds were an area where a steep (glacially-scoured) side-wall met a flat (glacial outwash sediment) bottom at a depth of about 200 fathoms (1 fathom = 6 ft). When the 24-hr fishery opened at the stroke of noon, we began setting gear just outside Tidal Inlet, heading south. The tub gear went out much more quickly than the old snap-on gear and we were able to set at a speed of about 4 knots (nautical miles per hour), much more rapidly than before. With about 2/3 of our gear out we got a call on the marine VHF from the Ocean Gold, setting north he had just noticed us hoovering up ‘his’ ground and was spitting mad. Tom took the call, and after some verbal posturing the two skippers figured out how to avoid setting gear on top of each other and we finished our set. And it was worth fighting over, with huge 100+ lb halibut dripping off the ground line like grapes on every other hook, we soon filled our hold and had to put some fish below in the companionway.
Some years later, I was at a dead end in my State fisheries job, so I went to work for the Park Service in Glacier Bay as a fisheries biologist on a halibut tagging and tracking project. Despite my professional qualifications, it was my commercial fishing experience that got me that job. Federal legislation was set to close the Bay to commercial fishing and researchers there wanted to study halibut movement to understand if a closure of that size would be likely to affect the local halibut population. We tagged halibut by implanting sonic tags and checked up on their movements by running around in a boat with a hydrophone to relocate them several times a week. It was really interesting to look at halibut distribution on an individual basis. The jist was that smaller halibut moved extensively while the larger ones exhibited a strong site fidelity, leaving the Bay (probably to spawn) in late summer, and returning to the same location the following year. Since commercial fishing in Glacier Bay was replaced by sport fishing which is apparently a more ‘park-appropriate’ activity, I don’t imagine there was much impact of the closure on the halibut population size, but I am curious.
It’s not too fancy, but here is one of my favorite halibut recipes!

Mustard Halibut Almandine
Tools:
Baking dish

Ingredients:
2-lb skinless halibut filet
⅓ c melted butter
⅓ c mustard
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
2 c plain yogurt
1 c panko bread crumbs
1 c slivered almonds

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 400° F.
Mix melted butter with mustard.
Set halibut filet in baking dish, season both sides with salt and pepper and brush with melted butter/mustard mixture.
Bake uncovered for 15 minutes until fish just begins to flake.
Mix yogurt with slivered almonds.
Remove fish from oven and slather with yogurt/almond mixture.
Return to oven for 5 minutes.
Remove fish from oven and sprinkle with panko bread crumbs.
Broil for 5 minutes until panko are golden brown.

Lanzarote-style Garlic Shrimp

My son Corwin was home over Christmas and we enjoyed doing a lot of cooking together. It’s such a joy to share the love of making and eating good food with my grown son! Some years ago, we took a family vacation to the Canary Islands where we visited some wonderful Spanish college friends of mine. The weather was sunny, the scenery lovely, but perhaps the most enjoyable and interesting part of the trip was the culture and the food! We had countless incredible meals, but one particularly stood out—-a simple garlic shrimp dish we enjoyed on Lanzarote Island. Ever since this time Corwin and I have been reminiscing about it and plotting to recreate the recipe! Turns out it was a renowned Island specialty and I recently rediscovered the recipe through the wonders of the internet. So, we set about to try to cook it. Here it is!

Lanzarote-style garlic shrimp tapas
Tools:
Oven-proof small casserole, cast iron pan, or terra cotta dish
Fry pan

Ingredients:
1 lb raw peeled prawns
10 cloves garlic
1 tsp red pepper flakes
½ cup olive oil – not extra virgin
Large knob butter
1 tsp spanish paprika
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
½ c chopped flat-leaf parsley

Instructions:
On Lanzarotte, this ‘tapas’ is served in a special oven-proof terra cotta dish. I substituted a small cast-iron fry pan but am on the lookout for a suitable small casserole which would be a more elegant serving method. Before you start cooking, put your serving dish in a very hot oven to heat and prepare a heat-proof place for it on the dining table.
– Put the olive oil in a pre-heated frying pan on high heat.
– Add the prawns, garlic and chili, and cook for one minute at high heat.
– Add the butter and paprika and stir.
– Put hot serving dish on table.
– Carefully transfer fry pan ingredients to hot serving dish.
– Add lemon juice and sprinkle parsley over.
– Eat with a good loaf of artisanal bread to mop up juices.

Post-script:
Truthfully, the outcome of this cooking adventure didn’t measure up to our memories of the dish. Upon reflection, I think the problem was two-fold. First, we used way too much olive oil because the recipe we were following was in ml and I was careless in converting it, and secondly the shrimp were not fresh enough.
Despite initially capturing a higher quality product, wild-capture fisheries sometimes have difficulty delivering it to market at a comparable freshness as a farmed product. Frozen seafood can be as good or better than fresh, but a very short period between capture and freezing and careful handling is required to maximize quality. The main cause of poor quality is high ‘fishery intensity’ or short seasons and excessive effort. This results from too many vessels and too much gear in the fishery, and from managers shortening fishing time to prevent overshooting target harvest levels while fishermen fish harder to maximize their catch share. Product quality subsequently declines further as it sits in cold storage. As a fisheries biologist who is also a cook, it pains me to see wild product looking bedraggled at the super market.
In contrast, high quality product is produced by Southeast Alaskan longline fisheries for which fishermen have their catch share pre-determined by their IFQs (Individual Fisheries Quota) so can fish in a more leisurely fashion, improving profits by attention to product quality rather than by increasing production.
Relaxing intensification to allow for leisurely production of high quality wild product would also benefit the resource as intense fishing results in more bycatch and habitat damage. But it would require extensive re-imagining of the current Southeast Alaskan shellfish fisheries management regime. IFQs are currently deemed unconstitutional for State fisheries. One of the main reasons for this is that they give ‘de facto’ ownership of the fishery to commercial fishermen. In the Alaska State Constitution, resources are owned equally by all State residents. This sounds like a really good idea, however, without explicit allocations to user groups, it puts Alaska square in the middle of the classic ‘Tragedy of the Commons’ described in 18th Century England, where resources owned by all are competed for and valued by none.
I had the good fortune to study for and obtain my Master of Science in Fisheries in Japan where there are thousands rather than hundreds of years of history in managing fisheries (not all of them successful). I studied a commercial shrimp fishery which is owned by the local fisheries cooperative who manage it based upon research advice from the regional government fisheries laboratory. Product is cooperatively produced by a small subset of vessels and the profits are shared by all.
Another interesting model is the Nova Scotia lobster fishery where harvest areas are opened consecutively throughout the summer, providing for a long season of fresh lobster availability and good quality and price to fishermen.
These ideas cannot be directly transferred to Southeast Alaska’s State fisheries, nor would we want to. While the implementation of IFQs for Federal fisheries in Alaska has improved product quality, it has also resulted in harvest share migrating out of small Alaskan communities and made entry difficult for young people. Expanding the IFQ approach to State-managed Alaskan fisheries would require harvestable surplus estimates and allocation plans between commercial, sport, and subsistence fisheries. It should also include mechanisms to keep permits in small communities. Other ideas that could be explored include permit buy-backs, permit stacking, and fishing days.
My intent here is not to imply a simple answer to the problem of intensification of fisheries but to suggest that a dialogue begin. As the importance of tourism in Southeast Alaska continues to increase, the success of the emerging local foods scene will be determined by modifying fisheries to provide fresh, high quality product throughout more of the year.