Sitka Conservation Society
Aug 14 2012

A Guide to Canning Salmon

Have you ever wanted to can salmon but haven’t been able to find good instructions?

Brian Hamilton, a local fisherman and connoisseur of wild foods, is here to help.  He has put together a very detailed explanation of the process he goes through when catching, cleaning, brining, smoking, and canning salmon.

My hope is that these instructions help others in their quest to preserve some of our local delicacies.

Here are Brian’s instructions:

“A Brief Outline of Catching, Cleaning, Brining, Smoking, and Canning Salmon.


  1. Once fish is caught (and killed), cut or remove gills to allow blood to drain from fish.
  2. Keep fish cold. ( I run a stringer through their gill flap and tie them to a rock making sure their bodies stay submerged in water).
  3. Once fish are caught, clean them as soon as possible.

* Try not to let fish get discolored which usually results from letting them sit to warm and too long before cleaning.

Cleaning:  (this is done easily in a double sink with a large counter space next to it)

  1. Rinse each fish in cold water removing any large external debris.
  2. Place fish on counter.  Hold tail with non-dominant hand and use a sharp fillet knife to cut a shallow incision from the anus to the fish’s bottom lip.
  3. Gently remove all organs from stomach cavity, being careful not to rupture the intestines or rectum (they contain green waste that spreads quickly and could damage the quality of the fish meat).
  4. Use the tip of the fillet knife to cut open the thin membrane that covers the spinal fluid. (Spinal fluid resembles thick, coagulated blood).
  5.  Rinse out spine and stomach cavities thoroughly with cold water.
  6. Cut two spine deep slits on each side of fish: 1 behind the gills and the other just in front of the tail
  7. Cut fillets off each side (I hold the tail with my non-dominant hand and run the fillet knife from tail slit to gill slit, keeping knife lightly pressed against the spine.  Try to remove as much meat as possible.  Bones are ok.)
  8. Cut fillets in half and rinse thoroughly.  Dry scale side down with a paper towel, removing as much slime as possible.
  9. Place fillet halves into brine (see recipe) and discard fish carcasses. *

*For bear safety it is strongly recommended that the fish carcasses and organs are bagged and frozen then dumped in your street garbage the morning it is picked up.

Brining- water, sugar, salt

  1. In 2 quarts cold water, add just enough salt to float and uncooked egg and then thoroughly mix.
  2. Then add 2 cups brown sugar and thoroughly mix again.
  3. Add fish and let fish sit in fridge for 12 hours.

Smoking- (plug in smoker 30 minutes before smoking)

  1. After fish has set in brine for 12 hours, remove from brine and thoroughly rinse.  Set rinsed fillets, scales down, on clean smoker racks (leaving about 1 inch between fillets helps smoke rise).
  2. Pat fillets with paper towels and then let them sit for 30 min in a cold, dry, clean place.
  3. Load fillets into smoker, starting with the top rack.
  4. Fill the wood chip pan with wood chips.
  5. After about 2.5 hours, check wood chip pan.  DO NOT REMOVE THE ENTIRE FRONT COVER.  If chips are exhausted, discard and refill wood chip pan.
  6. After another 2.5 hours, unplug smoker.


Supplies- Mason jars w/ lids and rings, pressure cooker.

  1. Thoroughly wash and rinse mason jars, rings, and lids and set them out to dry.  (It takes about 1 jar per 2 fillet halves, but have extras just in case).
  2. Remove lowest tray of smoked salmon fillets from smoker and set on counter.
  3. Remove as much skin as possible from each fillet, then pack fish into jars.  Bones are okay!
  4. Fish can be lightly stuffed into jars but make sure there is at least 1 inch of empty space between top lip of jar and the highest point of fish in jar.
  5. Place seal lid and ring onto each jar and lightly tighten each ring.  Rings should just barely “catch” before you stop tightening.  This will allow heat to escape jars during pressure cooking.
  6. Place jars into pressure cooker and stack if your pressure cooker is large enough.  Make sure a rack is in place (included with pressure cooker) so jars aren’t sitting directly on the bottom of the cooker.
  7. Fit as many jars as possible in the pressure cooker.
  8. Follow instruction manual for pressure cooker for amount of water and vinegar to add.
  9. Run a paper towel along the top rim of the jar to thoroughly clean off any debris.
  10. Place lid on pressure cooker and latch close, heat escape vent should be open and/or uncovered.
  11. Put pressure cooker on a stove and heat on highest setting.
  12. Once water boils, steam will emit from the heat vent.  Once steam is emitted in a strong, steady stream place cover on heat vent.  Once pressure builds up, the pressure stop will rattle around and eventually pop up.
  13. Pressure will slowly build on the pressure gauge.  Once 11 psi is reached, turn down heat setting and try not to allow pressure to exceed 11 PSI.
  14. Start a timer for 100 minutes and constantly adjust stove heat up and down to keep pressure at 11PSI.
  15. After 100 minutes, turn off stove heat and move pressure cooker to a non-heated stove surface.  Pressure will slowly decrease.
  16. After about 30 minutes, pressure will reach zero and the pressure stop will drop, carefully remove lid from canner making sure to keep the steam away from your face and arms.
  17. Jars are extremely hot.  Using hot gloves or a folded towel, remove each jar slowly and place on a towel or heat resistant surface.  The fat from the fish will be built up in the jars and still boiling.  Some jars may be broken, so carefully remove those jars from the bottom with a metal spatula or similar tool.  (As long as shards of glass are not present and jar breakage looks clean, the fish should be safe to consume.)  Leave jars to cool for a couple of hours at room temperature.
  18. As jars cool, the lids will compress and seal with popping sounds, which completes the sealing of the jar.  If any jar is cooled and not sealed, they are not safe for storage and should be refrigerated and consumed soon.  Sealed jars are usually safe at room temperature for at least a year or two.
  19. Store jars in a cool, dry place.
  20. Eat often.
Aug 04 2012

Hoonah Sound to Lisianski Strait to Goulding Harbor: A Chichagof Wilderness Expedition through Intact Watersheds

Anyone that tells you there is a trail between Hoonah Sound and Lisianski Strait because “it’s on the map,” has never been there on foot. This is because there is no trail there!   An SCS Wilderness Groundtruthing team recently explored that area on the Tongass and confirmed that the only trails available are the ones made by deer and bear.

The purpose of this expedition was to look at habitat connectivity and bear use.  Members of the expedition were wildlife biologist Jon Martin, mountain goat hunting guide and outdoorsman Kevin Johnson, photographer Ben Hamilton, and SCS Executive Director Andrew Thoms.

SCS is interested in this landscape because of the protections given to these areas.  The land between Hoonah Sound and Lisianski Strait is protected as LUD II – a Congressional roadless designation status meant to protect “the area’s wildland characteristics.”  The lands between Lisianski Strait and Goulding Harbor are part of the West Chichagof-Yacobi Wilderness where management is to “provide opportunities for solitude where humans are visitors.”   Management language aside, the most important thing about these areas is that they are large, contiguous protected areas where an entire watershed from the high-ridges to the estuaries is left in its natural condition.  This means that these watersheds are able to function with no impact from roads, logging, mining, or other human activities.

What this looks like on the ground is a pristine habitat teaming with bears, deer, and rivers and lakes filled with salmon and trout.  There are also many surprises: on this trip, we found a native species of lamprey spawning in a river creek that no one in the group has ever seen before (and the group had over 60 years of experience on the Tongass).  We also found fishing holes where trout bit on every cast, back-pools in river tributaries filled with Coho Smolts, forests with peaceful glens and thorny devil’s club thickets, and pristine lakes surrounded by towering mountains.

If any place should be protected on the Tongass, it is these watersheds.  The Lisianski River is a salmon and trout power-house and produces ample salmon for bears that live in the estuary and trollers that fish the outside waters.  One can’t help but feel grateful walking along the river and through the forests here, thankful that someone had the foresight to set this place aside. Clear-cutting logging wild places like these provides paltry returns in comparison to the salmon they produce and all the other life they sustain.

These watersheds that we walked through are success stories and teach us how the temperate rainforest environment works in its natural unaltered state and how much value they produce following their own rhythms.  The actions taken in the past to set these areas aside give us pause to think about what we should be doing today to invest in our future and protect ecosystems that are similarly important ecologically.

Scientists have identified over 77 other watersheds across the Tongass that produce massive amounts of salmon and have ecological characteristics that need to be protected.  Some of these watersheds are slated to be logged by the Forest Service.  Even worse, pending Sealaska legislation could result in some of these watersheds being privatized, sacrificing protection for salmon streams and spawning habitat.  With your help and involvement, SCS is working to protect those watersheds and landscapes so that we can ensure the consideration of long-term health and resource benefits from these watersheds over the short-term gains of logging, road-building, or privatization.  It is our responsibility that we make the right choices and that future generations are grateful for what we leave them to explore and benefit from.

If you want to be part of SCS’s work to protect lands and waters of the Tongass, please contact us and we’ll tell you how you can help.  If you are inspired, write a letter to our senators and tell them to protect salmon on the Tongass and manage it for Salmon: here


Aug 03 2012

Trawling: A Threat to Southeast Alaska Fisheries

Above:  TROLLERS, like the family salmon troller pictured above, made sure that TRAWLING was not allowed in the Eastern Gulf of Alaska.  TRAWLING is an unsustainable method of fishing that results in massive bycatch.  TROLLING is a much more targeted fishing method and is more sustainable.


The Sitka Conservation Society signed onto a letter raising the alarm that trawl caught fish were being purchased by a local fish processor.  Trawling, the practice of dragging a net through the water or along the bottom of the ocean and indiscriminately catching everything in the path of the net, has proven to be one of the most wasteful types of fishing and one of the most environmentally damaging.  Trawling has been outlawed in Southeast Alaska east of 140 degrees West Longitude thanks to the foresight and advocacy efforts of fishermen, conservationists, community members, and local government in 1998.

Trawl fishing is very different from the types of fishing employed in Southeast Alaska today.  Not to be confused, trolling employs hooks and line and is one-hook, one-fish.  Likewise, seining and gill-netting are highly targeted to specific places, times, and types of fish and is closely monitored to ensure fish harvest does not exceed the population needed for long-term population viability.  Halibut and Black-cod  Long-lining is also a one-hook, one-fish fishery that has tight controls on by-catch and harvest levels.  Crab and Shrimp fishing in SE Alaska uses pot and traps and has little impact to the seafloor and does not kill the by-catch.

SCS is concerned about trawling because of the harm is can cause the environment and the threat that it poses to the local economy that Sitka has worked so hard to develop in ways that balance human needs and environmental protection.  This is an issue that clearly demonstrates that protecting fisheries is both about protecting the natural environment of the Tongass Temperate Rainforests where salmon begin their lives and being vigilant on what takes place in the ocean ecosystems where the fish grow and mature.

To listen to a radio story on Sitkan’s concerns on trawling and the threat it poses to fisheries, livelihoods, and the environment, click here.

To read the letter that the Sitka Conservation Society signed, click here.

Jul 31 2012

Fishing for Change: a talk about Alaskan fishermen’s role in salmon enhancement and restoration

Elizabeth Cockrell, Sustainable Salmon Intern with the Sitka Conservation Society will explore the role fishermen played in the development of Alaska’s sustainable fisheries and management policies on Sunday, August 5th, 5pm at Kettleson Memorial Library.

Jun 11 2012

SCS Community Salmon Bake – Thursday, July 19th


Sitka Conservation Society will hold a Community Salmon Bake fundraiser on Thursday, July 19th at 6pm at Harrigan Centennial Hall. Tickets cost $20 per person ($15 for children 12 and under). Dinner will begin around 6:30 and feature local salmon, delicious sides, and local rhubarb sundaes! Door prizes will be given away. Funds raised support salmon education and outreach programming at SCS. Tickets will be on sale at Old Harbor Books at 20l Lincoln Street.

May 07 2012

Starrigavan Stream Team

Each May in Starrigavan Valley, nearly 100 7th Graders from Blatchley Middle School in Sitka spend a couple days doing hands-on stream restoration and monitoring. In the classroom, the students learn about watershed ecology and salmon habitat. Then they hit the field and help professional watershed managers actually install in-stream wood structures to rebuild fish habitat. They also monitor water quality and changes is stream structure. This project has a slew of partners that includes the Sitka Conservation Society, Sitka Ranger District, Sitka School District, Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game, National Park Service, and others.

Mar 05 2012

Fishermen Travel to Washington, DC to Advocate for Tongass Management that Prioritizes Wild Alaska Salmon

Salmon are the lifeblood of Sitka’s economy, culture, and way-of-life and are a keystone species in the temperate rainforest ecosystems of the Tongass.  Management of the Tongass has long focused on timber and historic logging practices were done in ways that severely damaged salmon runs.  The Forest Service has since learned that stream beds shouldn’t be used as logging roads and that there needs to be buffers between logging and salmon streams.  However, Forest Service management priorities and spending still overwhelmingly focus on timber harvest—even though salmon are really the drivers of the SE Alaska economy and the most valuable resource from the Tongass.

A group of fishermen are traveling to Washington, DC this week to lay out the facts for decision makers in Washington, DC.  They will be delivering a stack of letters from hundreds of people who use and depend on Salmon from the Tongass and ask for a shift in budget priorities in Tongass management.

To take action to help us protect Tongass Salmon, click here.


Read the Press Release Below on their visit below:

Fishermen to Forest Service: Grow Jobs, Protect Fish in America’s Salmon ForestGroup Asks Obama Administration, Congress to Strengthen Conservation and Restoration of Salmon and Trout Watersheds in Tongass National Forest

Juneau, A.K. — A group of Alaska commercial fishermen, anglers, guides, naturalists and tour operators are in Washington,
 D.C., this week to advocate for more conservation and restoration of fish habitat in the Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska. The group, together with Trout Unlimited, Alaska Program, and Sitka Conservation Society, is meeting with key lawmakers and agency leaders to seek critical changes in the management of America’s largest national forest, a top producer of wild salmon. They want conservation of critical salmon habitat and watershed restoration to become higher priorities for the U.S. Forest Service in Southeast Alaska. The group is also delivering dozens of letters from individual fishermen asking the Forest Service to make salmon a priority in the Tongass.

“Salmon and trout alone are a billion-dollar industry in Southeast Alaska that sustains more than 7,000 jo
The U.S. Forest Service is the lead agency that manages the 17-million-acre Tongass National Forest, part of the world’s largest coastal temperate rain forest that covers most of Southeast Alaska and produces tens of millions of salmon every year. Southeast Alaska commercial salmon fishermen landed nearly 74 million fish during the 2011 season, a harvest worth more than $203 million—the most valuable in the either directly or indirectly. And yet the Forest Service budget remains squarely focused on timber and road building. It doesn’t make sense given the enormous value of fish

eries in the region,” said Sheila Peterson, a Juneau commercial fisherman and co-owner of a direct marketing seafood business.

Sport fishing is also big business. Salmon and trout anglers in Southeast Alaska spent an estimated $174 million on trips, gear, and related expenses in 2007, according to economic research commissioned by Trout Unlimited. The


total economic output related to their purchases that year is estimated at $358.7 million. Salmon and trout angling also supported 2,334 jobs and generated $84.7 million in personal income in 2007. On average, sport anglers catch 900,000 salmon each year in Southeast Alaska. They also catch halibut, steelhead, trout, char, rockfish, lingcod, and other species.

Because of its stunning beauty, the Tongass draws more than 1 million tourists to Southeast Alaska every summer. Many come aboard cruise ships to view the forest’s snowcapped mountains, tidewater glaciers, pristine fjords and abundant marine and terrestrial wildlife, including brown bears, wolves and humpback whales.

Despite the bounty fishing and tourism provide to Southeast Alaska, the Forest Service budget fails to reflect this

economic reality.

The agency spends more than $25 million annually on timber sales and road building in the Tongass – an industry that supports about 200 private-sector jobs, according to the Alaska Department of Labor. At the same time, the Forest Service only invests about $1.5 million each year on watershed restoration. And yet, by the Forest Service’s own estimate, it will cost some $100 million and take 50 years at current investment rates to restore salmon-producing watersheds damaged by past logging. This funding shortfall and backlog needs to be addressed. Salmon watershed restoration will create new jobs and increase salmon productivity. More salmon will provide greater opportunity for commercial, sport, and subsistence harvest as well as additional jobs in the fishing industry.

“We hope the Forest Service will move funding in a new direction. It’s time to change the Forest

Service budget so that more money goes toward

managing the Tongass as the salmon forest it is,” said Jev Shelton, a longtime Juneau commercial fisherman who has served on many fishery boards, including the Pacific Salmon Commission.

For more than four decades, the Forest Service managed the Tongass primarily for old-growth timber produ
“There are fe

w places left in the world where wild salmon still thrive. The Tongass National Forest is one of them but we need to ensure watersheds that were damaged by past timber harvest and road building are restored to their natural conditions. The only way that’s apt to happen in a timely manner is through shifts in the Forest Service budget,” said Mark Kaelke, Trout Unlimited, Southeast Alaska Project Director.ction. But with the closure of the region’s two large pulp mills in the 1990s, the agency has begun to shift toward second-growth timber management, restoring fish-producing watersheds damaged by logging, and supporting other industries such as fishing and tourism. Trout Unlimited, Alaska P
rogram, supports the Forest Service’s transition and would like to see this policy shift reflected in a new Tongass National Forest budget that emphasizes fisheries, watershed protection and h
abitat conservation.

For more information, visit, and

Feb 04 2012

Reflections from the Tongass Salmon Forest Residency

This is a guest post by Bonnie Loshbaugh about her reflections on SCS’s Tongass Salmon Forest Residency.  This unique position was a partnership with the Sitka Ranger District and was tasked with telling the story of the Forest Service’s work restoring salmon habitat in the Tongass.

Be sure to check out the fantastic slide show of Bonnie’s photos at the bottom of this post.

Bonnie Loshbaugh, SCS's Tongass Salmon Forest Resident

I arrived in Sitka in May, after the herring opener had ended and before the salmon season had really gotten fired up, for a six month stint as the Tongass Salmon Forest Resident. The position, a collaboration between the Sitka Conservation Society, The Wilderness Society, and the Forest Service, was a new venture for everyone. For the Forest Service, it was one of the tentative steps the agency is taking towards a transition from a timber-only to a multi-resource management approach for the Tongass National Forest. For the Sitka Conservation Society and The Wilderness Society, it was part of a long term shift by environmental organizations towards collaborating rather than fighting with the Forest Service in Southeast Alaska. For me, a newly minted master of marine affairs, the residency was an opportunity to position myself at the crossroads of public policy and science, practice my science writing abilities, to return to my home state, and—I’ll be honest—to eat a lot of fish.

In Sitka, I got a room in the Forest Service bunkhouse and started a crash course in island life, Forest Service safety training, NGO-agency collaboration, and NGO-NGO collaboration, with a refresher on small town Alaska. Growing up on the Kenai Peninsula, I already knew a great deal about salmon as food. Now I started learning about salmon as an economic driver, natural resource, cultural underpinning, keystone species in the coastal temperate rainforest, and salmon as the life work and primary focus of many of the people I had the honor of working with during my time in Sitka.

During the summer field season, I went with the fisheries and watershed staff on quick projects—a day trip by boat to Nakwasina to help add large wood to a salmon stream—and long projects—and eight day stint at a remote camp on Tenakee Inlet with a crew using explosives to decommission an old logging road. Although I was mainly in Sitka, I also visited Prince of Wales Island and the restoration sites at the Harris River and worked up a briefing sheet that was used during USDA Undersecretary Harris Sherman’s visit to the same sites. By the fall, I had a large amount of information and photos which I worked up into several brochures for the Forest Service, and also a Tongass Salmon Factsheet, and a longer Factbook.

My main contacts at the Forest Service were Greg Killinger, the Fisheries Watershed and Soils Staff Officer for the Tongass, and Jon Martin, the Tongass Transition Framework Coordinator, both of whom made the connections for me to work with and ask questions of the top fisheries folk on the Tongass, as well the rank and file staff on the ground carrying out restoration and research work. The residency gave me a chance to learn about salmon on the Tongass, and to immediately turn that information around for public distribution. Along the way, it also allowed me to see how a federal agency works, a particularly enlightening experience since I have mainly worked for non-profits in the past. While collaboration is not always the easy way, the joint creation of the Tongass Salmon Forest Residency is a recognition that it is the best way to manage our resources, and I hope to see, and participate in, many more such collaborations in the future.

Jan 02 2012

Salmon Curriculum Project goes to Tenakee

SCS’s Salmon Curriculum Project recently conducted a Teacher Training Workshop in Tenakee. Because that only means 2 teachers, we decided to involve the entire student population of 10 as well! So far, SCS has conducted 5 of these workshops in communities throughout Southeast Alaska. Our goal is to provide teachers with the tools (field equipment) and resources (lesson plans) to teach about the value of habitat and water quality for wild Alaska salmon. Ed Ronco from Raven Radio joined us.

Click here for the radio story that was aired on the Alaska Public Radio Network.

Jan 02 2012

End of Year Tally – Salmon Outreach Project

In 2011, with funding from the Alaska Sustainable Salmon Fund, we developed the Salmon For All Ages Project. Now that the year has ended, we can tally our success at spreading the word about the value of our Alaska Wild Salmon and Salmon Habitat to people throughout Southeast Alaska. We developed a curriculum resource guide for teachers, conducted teacher training workshops, aired public service announcements, and developed a university-level course in watershed ecology. Some of our 2011 key statistics:

756             potential number of K-12 Southeast Alaska students exposed to the curriculum

1,342          number of PSA’s aired

14                number or radio stations involved

5                  number of teacher workshops conducted in different communities

5                  number of school districts involved

25                number of teachers involved

Click on this link to hear an example of one of our radio PSAs.


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