The Tongass National Forest is valuable for more than old growth timber clear-cutting: it’s the source of near limitless value to both residents and visitors, if used sustainably.
Energy production, recreation, tourism, hunting, fishing, education and subsistence resources all rely on the continued health of the Tongass in order to continue bringing thousands of dollars and hundreds of jobs to Sitka. As Sitka continues to grow, physically and economically, it’s essential that we recognize the wide swath of valuable assets present in and around Sitka.
Southeast Alaska offers a cornucopia of possibilities for making a living from (and living off of) the land, rivers and sea. Wilderness areas offer adventure and solitude rarely matched elsewhere in the US, large tracts of remote and robust ecosystems provide habitat for large populations of deer, bear, mountain goat, and more, world class salmon fisheries provides the best wild salmon and some of the best sport-fishing,
The Tongass National Forest, and Sitka, are more than just tourist destinations, more than just timber value, more than just salmon fishing: the sum is greater than its parts. If we plan future expansion and development with all these invaluable assets in mind, Sitka has the potential to grow more prosperous, and more sustainable.
Ask anyone where the best salmon is caught, and they’ll answer: Alaska.
Ask an Alaskan where the best salmon is caught, and they’ll answer: Southeast.
The Wild Salmon fisheries of Southeast Alaska provides nearly 30% of the global supply of wild salmon. The 57,000 plus miles of rivers, streams, and creeks throughout the Tongass National Forest provides unparalleled spawning habitat for all five species of salmon: pink, chum, coho, sockeye and king. Neighboring rivers in British Columbia and in Southcentral Alaska, as well as the salmon released each year from hatcheries throughout Southeast, also contribute to the robust fisheries we have here.
But just how many salmon caught each year are true Tongass Salmon: spawned and raised in waterways within the Tongass National Forest?
Ron Medel, the Tongass Fisheries Program Manager, found out just that. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game keeps a close eye on salmon throughout the state, and each year produce an estimate regarding how many landed fish come from hatcheries versus wild stocks. Fisheries data from British Columbia’s portions of the Stikine, Taku and other salmon streams were also considered and factored out of the Southeast total harvest. Combining all this data, utilizing the power of spreadsheets and some elbow grease… Medel extrapolated that about 79% of the annual harvest in Southeast Alaska are from wild salmon that originated from the Tongass National Forest.
Even though the Tongass forest is such an important element in the Southeast Alaska salmon harvest, the US Forest Service has not allocated its funding and attention to the restoration and continued health of salmon spawning habitat within the forest. Only a small portion of their budget – only about $7 million out of the nearly $63 million budget – is spent on the fisheries and watershed program which directly impacts fisheries conditions and restores salmon habitat (timber harvest and road building receive $20 million). The health of the streams and watersheds that produce nearly $1 BILLION each year through commercial, sport and subsistence salmon harvesting is receiving so little support from the US Forest Service – what sort of salmon fishery would we have in Southeast Alaska if the Forest Service put more of their budget to supporting salmon and restoring all of the damage that was done by the historic clear-cut logging?
Wild, Tongass-raised salmon may make up 79% of the salmon caught in Southeast Alaska each year, but those salmon forests, waterways, fisheries and markets need our support, our time, our energy, our concern in order to continue.
Take action to encourage the Forest Service to put more support into stream restoration and watershed health! Your input is needed now to help Congress and the Forest Service prioritize where the American public wants to invest our tax dollars in public land management!
The event will take place on Saturday, February 9th, from 1:00 to 1:30 pm, at the Crescent Harbor Shelter.
This a quick get together to show public opposition to the pending FDA approval. It’s not too late to comment to the FDA, come learn why and how!
I’m inviting the press, so we really want a great showing.FRANKENFISH are a danger to our wild stocks,and to the marketplace.
Find out more about this issue by clicking the link below
Salmon are the backbone of the economy and the way-of-life in Southeast Alaska. Many of our regional leaders recognize the importance of salmon for Southeast Alaska and recently worked with the Sitka Conservation Society to articulate why Salmon are important and the efforts they are taking to protect and sustain our Wild Salmon Populations. With support from the State of Alaska Sustainable Salmon Fund and Trout Unlimited Alaska, SCS helped to produce a series of “Targeted, effective, and culturally competent messages on the importance of wild salmon and salmon habitat will be created that are customized to appeal to specific Southeast Alaska communities.”
The work of the Sitka Conservation Society strives to find the common ground that we all have to the natural world that surrounds us. We work to build upon this common ground to chart a course for policy, practices, and personal relationships that create an enduring culture of conservation values alongside natural resource management that provides for current and future generations. In Alaska, we have in Salmon an opportunity to do things right. We are proud when are leaders recognize and support this vision and take actions that manifest this support. Listen to what they have to say:
Listen to: Senator Mark Begich
“We have an incredible salmon resource in Southeast Alaska. Did you know that salmon provide a 1 Billion dollar industry that powers the local economy? And that catching, processing and selling salmon puts 1 in 10 Southeast Alaskans to work? Salmon is big business throughout Southeast Alaska and symbolizes the richness and bounty of the Tongass National Forest. Healthy and abundant salmon–something we can all be proud of!”
Listen to: Senator Lisa Murkowski
“Since I was a young girl growing up in Southeast the region has been sustained because of the diversity of our economy, and a key part of that diversity is our salmon which fuel a 1 Billion dollar commercial fishery annually. Not to mention the sport fisheries’ economic contributions. Catching, processing and selling salmon accounts for 10% of all regional jobs. Everyone is lucky to live in a place that produces such bountiful fisheries. Healthy and abundant salmon–something we can all be proud of!”
Listen to: Dale Kelly – Alaska Troller’s Association
“Did you ever think that an old log lying in the stream might be good for salmon? Turns out it is! A fallen tree creates pools and eddies where salmon like to lay eggs. These areas are also nurseries for young salmon. Back in the day, people used to clear logs from salmon streams, but that’s no longer allowed and restoration work is underway in some rivers. Healthy forests mean healthy salmon–something we can all be proud of!”
Listen to: Bruce Wallace – United Fishermen of Alaska
“Did you know that conserving and restoring salmon habitat means jobs for Southeast Alaskans? Salmon already employ about 1 in 10 people here. Restoring salmon watersheds damaged in the past means more fish, bigger overall catches, and more jobs. With support from the Alaska Sustainable Salmon Fund, forest restoration projects are underway in the Tongass National Forest. Healthy forests mean healthy salmon–something we can all be proud of!
Listen to: Sencer Severson – Salmon Troller
“Southeast Alaskans love our rare spells of hot, dry weather, but heat and sunshine can be bad for salmon–in fact, they like shade. That’s why our towering trees in the Tongass National Forest are so important for our salmon to reproduce. Leaving trees along salmon streams provides essential shade. It also prevents erosion and keeps rivers in their natural channels. In the Tongass, healthy forests mean healthy salmon!”
“Alaska’s sustainable salmon management depends on good information. That’s why technicians may ask to look at salmon you’ve caught. Fish with the adipose fin removed usually means the salmon had a tiny wire ta implanted in side when they were juveniles. These tags provide managers with important information on the origin of the stock. Healthy and abundant salmon–something we can all be proud of!”
Sitka Conservation Society board member Richard Nelson spoke on salmon during Sitka Whalefest on the theme of “Cold Rivers to the Sea: Terrestrial Connections to our Northern Oceans.” He spoke on the subject of one of the greatest manifestations of the connection between the terrestrial forests and the oceans: our Wild Alaska Salmon. His eloquent words remind us of why we care so much about and treasure salmon so deeply. Salmon are the backbone of the ecosystems of Southeast Alaska. For all of us who live here, Salmon are an extremely important part of our lives. Many of our jobs are directed related to salmon through fishing, processing, shipping, guiding, or managing salmon stocks. All of us are connected to salmon as the food that we eat and prepare for our families. For the Sitka Conservation Society, it is obvious to us that the Tongass is a Salmon Forest and that salmon are one of the most important outputs from this forest. For years we have fought against a timber industry that wanted more and more of the forest for clear-cutting and log export. It is time to turn the page on the timber dominated discussions of the past. Sure there is room for some logging. But, the Tongass should no longer be seen as a timber resource to be cleared and moved on. Rather, the Tongass should be managed with salmon as the priority, with the Forests left standing as the investment and the interest that it pays out every year being the salmon runs that feed our ecosystems, fisheries, and our families. Please help us protect Tongass salmon and help us make a new vision of Tongass management a reality. We need you to write letters telling decision makers and land managers to make Tongass management for salmon and salmon protection a priority. Here is an action alert that tells you how to write a letter: here. Or, if you need help, please feel free to visit or call our office (907-747-7509). You can read some letters that local fishermen wrote for inspiration: here Thanks for your help and support. Together we can ensure that are Wild Alaska Salmon are protected!
It’s November and the salmon eggs are all nestled in their gravel beds, but we can still dream of next year’s Blatchley Stream Team by watching this very cool video! Each May, over 100 Blatchley 7th Graders participate in Stream Team, where they help restore fish habitat and monitor stream health. This annual event is eagerly anticipated by the students as well as the organizers, which includes the US Forest Service, Sitka School District, Sitka Conservation Society, National Park Service, Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game, Corps of Engineers, and US Fish and Wildlife Service.
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.
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.
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.
Much has changed at Sitkoh Lake since the late 1970’s. What was once an epicenter for industrial logging is now a center of activity for forest and watershed restoration. During the summer of 2012, the Sitka District of the United States Forest Service (USFS) went into the Sitkoh Lake Watershed to restore tributary streams and repair some of the damage that was caused by industrial logging. This logging occurred at a time when we didn’t understand the value of the yearly returns of salmon compared to the short-term gains of clear-cut logging.
In the late 1970’s the area around Sitkoh Lake was heavily logged and many roads were constructed in close proximity to the nearby streams. Unfortunately, the resulting degradation in wildlife and stream habitat made survival more difficult for the area’s Sockeye, Coho, Pink, and Chum salmon. To rectify this issue, the Sitka Ranger District of the USFS has invested resources to restore and monitor these important streams.
Rivers and streams in old growth forest naturally have large logs and other root masses that create ideal habitat for juvenile salmon that spend the first years of their lives in this slow moving, deep water. These natural structures help to create deep pools, oxygenate the water, and provide cover from predators. When the area around a stream is heavily logged, the natural material that can create this salmon habitat is lost. As a result the stream becomes straighter, shallower and less ideal for juvenile salmon.
To fix this problem the crew from the US Forest Service installed a number of man-made structures called “upstream V’s” that replicate these natural structures. These upstream V’s help channel the stream’s flow and create deeper, slower moving water ideal for juvenile salmon. However, these are temporary fixes that will hold the stream bank together until the trees along the stream grow large enough to naturally create this habitat diversity for spawning salmon.
This project in the Sitkoh Lake Watershed is important because these salmon runs help support many of our local communities. Many commercial seine and troll fishermen depend on these fish for their livelihoods. These runs also support our local subsistence fishery that so many residents depend upon for their sustenance. Considering these qualities, it’s fair to say that these streams are the lifeblood for the nearby communities of Angoon and Sitka.
Forest Service projects like this that “manage the Tongass for Salmon” are extremely important investments in both the ecosystems of the Tongass as well as the economy of Southeast Alaska. But this project is just a start. There are still hundreds of miles of salmon streams that have been impacted by historic clear-cut logging that still need restoration.
SCS is working to make sure that this project is only the beginning of a long-term focus of Tongass management that focuses on our Wild Alaska Salmon Resource.