Helen worked for two summers with SCS on wild salmon education and outreach programs and advocacy. She’s currently pursuing a Masters of Regional Planning at Cornell University, focusing on sustainable food systems, and working for Sitka Salmon Shares.
As a Midwesterner, I enjoy meeting and learning from local farmers committed to producing quality food in sustainable ways. In college I loved crafting meals at home, experimenting with new vegetables from my parents’ Community Supported Agriculture share. Yet for all my excitement, I rarely thought about food systems beyond the Midwest.
That changed when I moved to Sitka, a fishing town build on salmon, nestled within the Tongass National Forest. There I ate pan-seared king salmon—straight from the docks—at the home of a fisherman friend, with sautéed greens harvested from the backyard. I learned quickly that, in this community, the sustainability of local food means something very different than what I knew in the Midwest. The health of the Forest relates intimately to the strength of the wild salmon runs that make Sitka one of the greatest premium ports in the country. Walking through the forest, along the docks, and through the processor, you see how salmon connects the environment, culture, and economy—and the central importance of Alaska’s sustainable fishery management to ensuring these relationships continue.
Returning home to the Midwest, I was excited to share this salmon and its story. From my work with Nic Mink at the Sitka Conservation Society, I helped him establish Sitka Salmon Shares, the first Community Supported Fishery in the Midwest. We link fishermen we knew in Sitka with friends and neighbors in cities like Minneapolis—folks who crave the best salmon, but want the trust, transparency, and quality they currently seek from their farmers.
As part of Sitka Salmon Shares, we collaborated this fall with the Campus Club at the University of Minnesota to hold a Tongass salmon dinner. Chef Beth Jones used produce from the University’s campus farm, crafting a sweet corn succotash and a heirloom tomato relish to accent the unique flavors of coho, king, and sockeye from our fishermen in SE Alaska.
The guests that evening, however, wanted more than a nourishing meal that celebrates small-scale, sustainable food and its producers. They wanted to understand the significance of the wilderness and watersheds that give life to the salmon. Nic gave a talk called “How Alaska’s Salmon Became Wild,” exploring the histories of farmed and wild salmon. Afterwards, we invited guests to join us in asking the U.S. Forest Service to design their budget to reflect the importance of salmon and their habitat within the Tongass. In return, SCS and fisherman Marsh Skeele thanked them with one pound fillets of troll-caught Tongass coho.
The enthusiasm that our guests had to take part in this effort illustrated the important role food can play in forging connections. I support eating locally, but we should not forget the power that emerges when we form strong connections across regions. Our dinner at the Campus Club revealed that by starting with the allure of a boat to plate meal, we can show how the process really begins in the forest. From Sitka to Minneapolis, the value of the Tongass and its salmon holds true.
Check out this great video prepared by our new JV Americorps, Courtney Bobsin, on the importance of Fish to Schools. We hope this inspires you to choose fish for lunch tomorrow, the first for the 2012-2013 school year!
“In Sitka we, as a community, have an outstanding opportunity to have a strong relationship with the food we eat. We touch fish with our hands and get to transform it into a meal to fuel our bodies, and that is something to be celebrated. Fish to Schools is a project that has been created to provide a healthy and local option to the school lunch menu and allow kids to explore all dimensions of their food: where does it comes from, what does it look like, and why is it so important. Students are able to go look at fishing boats, dissect a salmon, and learn how to prepare the food they catch.
It’s time to ask questions about where our food comes from. And it’s time to care about the answer. Kids will learn that the banana they ate for breakfast traveled thousands of miles to reach their doorstep and the lunch they ate at school came from Alaskan fisherman. Let’s cut the fish open. Let’s explore and investigate what we are putting in our bodies. Let’s treat our body well and see what comes of it.
Fish to schools encourages healthier foods by serving locally harvested fish every other Wednesday. We strive to teach kids about how the fish they are eating got from the stream to their plate and why we should care about the process because the origin of our food is too important to overlook. By fueling our body with good food, we are becoming healthier people who promote sustainable practices and protect our planet. So let’s celebrate our food and where it comes from! Let’s put that food into our body. And let’s be healthier and live more sustainably. We can change the way we see food.”
In partnership with Sitka Conservation Society and Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC).
Chef Rodey Batiza was recently named one of Madison Magazine’s “Best New Chefs.” He’s known in Madison for his culinary creativity and versatility, having mastered regional Italian, Japanese ramen and dumplings, and classical French cuisine. He’s worked at many of Madison’s finest restaurants, including Madison, Club, Johnny Delmonico’s, Magnus, and Ocean Grill. He now is chef at Gotham Bagels, an artisan sandwich and meat shop on the capital square.
I’ve been a chef for over 15 years in Madison, Wisconsin, and what I’ve noticed more and more in the last few years is that my diners increasingly expect not only great ingredients but also ones that are sustainably produced. It’s not enough anymore that food tastes good. It must come from sources that are doing everything in their power to produce food in an environmentally friendly way.
For these reasons, I jumped at the chance to partner with Sitka Salmon Shares and Sitka fisherman Marsh Skeele to host two, four-course salmon dinners this past week at my artisan meat and sandwich shop, Gotham Bagels. I know that Alaska’s fisheries are managed as sustainably as any in the world and I also know that getting fish directly from fishermen in Sitka, Alaska, provides the type of transparency and accountability that I like to have when I source any of my products.
The dinners were an astounding success as both were filled to capacity. Our guests enjoyed coho salmon lox, caught by Marsh Skeele in Sitka Sound. It was dusted with pumpernickel and served with pickled squash. Our second course was seared sockeye salmon, caught on the Taku River by gillnetter F/V Heather Anne. We presented that with pancetta ravioli and pureed peas from our Farmers’ Market. Finally, to cap the night, we created a horseradish-crusted king salmon from Sitka’s Seafood Producers Cooperative. We served that with curried barley and Swiss chard.
All of my guests these evenings knew that we were not only eating the world’s best wild salmon but they also understood that the wise management of natural resources in Alaska should mean that we have these wild salmon on our plates for years to come. To reinforce that point, the Sitka Conservation Society sent everyone home with coho salmon caught by Marsh Skeele and literature to help them get involved in protecting the habitat of wild Alaskan salmon for future generations.
October 31st from 4-6pm
during the Downtown Trick or Treating extravaganza
Bring out your kid’s wild side this Halloween by dressing them up for the Sitka Conservation Society’s Tongass-Inspired Halloween Contest. SCS folks will be awaitin’ outside the bookstore to find the costume with the best Tongass theme.
Prizes include a $20 gift certificate from Old Harbor Books, ice cream coupons from Harry Race, water bottles, dried fruit, and more! For questions, contact Ray Friedlander at 747-7509.
When I was 21, I headed to the Sierra Nevadas for two months as a part of my forestry degree, studying the scientific and professional dimensions of forest and wildland resource management. I received training in simple field orienteering principles, ran transects, cruised timber, and assessed the ecological conditions around Quincy, California. Being out at Starrigavan this past Friday with SCS’s Scott Harris and Kitty LaBounty and Foresters Chris Leeseberg and Craig Bueler, I felt nostalgic as we also ran transects, assessed forests for deer habitat, and sampled gaps for regeneration of herbaceous layers however there was something quite different about this experience—instead of university peers, we were working with students from Sitka High whose ages ranged from 15 to 19.
The Forest Team emerged unofficially three years ago as an occasional field trip opportunity to Starrigavan and False Island in Kent Bovee’s Field Science course, yet there is talk of having the program adopted into the curriculum for Sitka High’s Life Science course. This would guarantee every 10th grader field-based instruction on forest and wildland resource management topics in the hopes that these students will develop a better understanding of public stewardship and what this stewardship means for the forests that sustain us.
What these students get to learn in the field is an experience many of us do not have until college. I watched the teachers hand off GPSs to the students, while the three stations they visited—the riparian stream station, the gap station, and the quick cruise station—equipped the students with transects, compasses, a plot mapper, and prisms to come up with data needed to assess the health of riparian and forest habitats. The gap vegetation monitoring the students did will eventually turn into a long term study about understory plant regeneration and will be published with the intent to spread awareness on the importance thinned forests have for growing winter deer food.
Streams and forests together determine the health of Tongass watersheds. Sharing knowledge through field-based instruction gives high school students a clearer, scientific understanding of what goes on in the woods and also sheds light on career opportunities they could have as Tongass stewards.
Sitka Conservation Society staffers Natalia Povelite (Tongass salmon organizer), Ray Friedlander (Tongass forest organizer), and Courtney Bobsin (Jesuit Volunteer, Fish-to-Schools) discuss their respective projects, and why they chose to work in Sitka.
The University of Alaska will hold a Southeast mushroom identification class Thursday, September 13, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. with field trips Saturdays September 15 and 22 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The fee is $49. SCS Board member Kitty LaBounty will instruct. Call Amanda at 747-7762 for more details or to register.
If you like walking beaches, learning about natural history, and want to contribute to marine conservation, this volunteer program is for you.
The COASST Program will be conducting training in Sitka on September 15. No experience is needed, only enthusiasm, to become a citizen scientist and learn the arcane skill of identifying beached birds!
I have been involved with COASST for over 5 years. My family and I have adopted our favorite beach on Kruzof Island and we walk the beach several times each year looking for beached birds. The value of this effort is to establish a “baseline”, or what is normal, for birds to die and wash up on beaches. If we ever experience an oil spill, climate change, a change in the marine environment, or other environmental disaster we can then measure the actual impact on bird populations. COASST has an extensive network all along the west coast of North America.
Not only does our family get to collect valuable information, we also become intimately familiar with the natural history and seasonal changes on a place that is important to us, and we get to nurture a long-term commitment to the health of our local environment. It’s also lots of fun!
Check out COASST at http://depts.washington.edu/coasst/
Help make a difference for the environment by collecting data for the Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team (COASST). COASST is a citizen science project dedicated to involving volunteers in the collection of high quality data on the status of coastal beaches, and trends of seabirds. Our goal is to assist government agencies and other organizations in making informed management and conservation decisions, and promote proactive citizen involvement and action. COASST volunteers systematically count and identify bird carcasses that wash ashore along ocean beaches from northern California to Alaska. Volunteers need NO experience with birds, just a commitment to survey a specific beach (about 3/4 mile) each month.
If you are interested in participating, join COASST staff for a full, 6-hour training session. Hear about how COASST started, learn how to use the custom Beached Birds field guide, and try out your new skills with some actual specimens. There is no charge to attend a training, but plan to provide a $20 refundable deposit if you would like to take home a COASST volunteer kit complete with a COASST Beached Birds field guide. Training activities take place indoors, and include a break for lunch – please pack your own or plan to buy lunch nearby.
Upcoming COASST training session:
SATURDAY SEPTEMBER 15, 2012
10:00 am – 4:00 pm
Sitka Sound Science Center – 834 Lincoln Street Suite 200
If you can’t attend these events, please check our website at www.coasst.org or call (206) 221-6893 for additional information on upcoming events and trainings.
To reserve your spot at a training session, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-221-6893.
The hatchery employees at the Medvejie Hatchery located south of Sitka exemplify what it means to be “living with the land and building community in Southeast Alaska.” They are the living link between the community of Sitka and the robust salmon fishery that supports the community. Their good work helps sustain healthy wild runs of salmon and healthy Alaskan communities. Without hatcheries like Medvejie, the Alaskan salmon industry would not be what it is today.
By the 1970’s, the state’s wild stock of salmon had been severely damaged by overfishing. In response to this crisis, the state developed a hatchery program intended to supplement, not supplant, the wild stocks of salmon. For this reason, there is a litany of policies and regulations that guide the state’s hatcheries in order to protect the wild runs of salmon.
One of the policies developed to protect the wild runs of salmon was the mandated use of local brood stock. “Brood stock” are the fish a hatchery uses for breeding. Requiring that the “brood stock” be “local” means that the fish used for breeding must be naturally occurring in the area versus fish from outside the region. This requirement is designed to help maintain the natural genetic diversity of the run.
This August I had the opportunity to participate in Medvejie’s brood stock propogation of Chinook Salmon (i.e., King Salmon). This involved the physical mixing of a male Chinook salmon’s sperm with a female’s row. We were, quite literally, making salmon.
However, it wasn’t just salmon that was being cultivated that day, but a resource to sustain the local community. In recent years, Medvejie has had the most successful Chinook program in Southeast Alaska. In the last ten years, the hatchery’s runs of Chinook have averaged 34,000 fish. Most of these fish, an average of 9,500 over the last ten years, are harvested in May and June by Sitka’s commercial trolling fleet. The sportfishing fleet benefits as well, reaping an average of nearly 1,950 fish in this same period. While the associated economic impacts from these fish are beyond measure, it is safe to say that they are essential to the health of the local economy.
My experience taking brood stock at Medvejie taught me how fortunate we are to have such a well-managed fishery in the state of Alaska. I also learned about the fragility of this resource. Without such strict policies regulating the fishing industry, we would not have a resource that provides so much for our community. Salmon fishing is the cultural and economic backbone for many communities in Southeast Alaska. In the future, we must remember this fact to protect the resource that makes the community whole.