Sitka Conservation Society
Aug 04 2014

Final Summer Boat Cruise

Join the Sitka Conservation Society on their last boat cruise of the season!  

On Tuesday, Aug. 19, SCS will set sail with Allen Marine tours to explore the salmon of Sitka Sound.  Lon Garrison, aquaculture director at the Sitka Sound Science Center will be on board as a guide and to answer questions.  Come learn about the importance of salmon to the Tongass National Forest and have some fun on a Tuesday night!

Tickets are on sale at Old Harbor Books beginning Aug. 5.  The cost is $40 per person.

The boat cruise will depart Crescent Harbor at 5 p.m. and return at 8 p.m., boarding begins at 4:45 p.m.

Don’t miss the last chance to take a SCS cruise this summer! 

 

Jul 18 2014

Why do salmon jump? Exploring the Medvejie Hatchery in Southeast Alaska

Fishing season is in full swing here in Southeast Alaska.  The docks of Sitka are buzzing with fishermen anxiously awaiting every available opener to go out and get the next big catch!
Here in Southeast Alaska, fish are a part of every day life.  One in 10 jobs in Sitka is directly related to the fishing industry.  But, salmon is important for subsistence and recreation in the Tongass National Forest as well.  The Tongass produces 28 percent of Alaskan salmon.  Salmon hatcheries play an important role in mitigating disease among salmon and ensuring salmon populations can meet the economic and cultural demands of the region.
The Medvejie hatchery in Southeast Alaska is a short boat ride away from Sitka and it produces chum, Chinook (King) and coho salmon, by the millions.

Baby cohos are kept in tanks until they are released in fresh water streams in the Tongass.

Hatcheries support wild populations of salmon, they do not replace them.  Housing salmon for just their early months, the fish are released into fresh water streams that lead straight to the ocean. The ones that survive the fishing season, return home to the hatchery to spawn (lay eggs) and then die.  Salmon traditionally return to the stream they were born to spawn.
The stream at the Medvejie hatchery is fondly referred to by workers as the “Spawnoma Canal.”  After the salmon come up, hatchery workers release eggs and sperm into a bag to fertilize them and then they preserve the meat to be sent to fish processing plants.  Outside of hatcheries, the dead fish are eaten by bears and eagles and their carcasses help fertilize the surrounding soil.
Medvejie, like all hatcheries, has a way of marking all of their fish so they can keep track of how many make it back to the hatchery and how many are caught in the wild. By changing the temperatures of the boxes where eggs are kept, a barcode is created on every fish’s eardrum. They also tag each fish with a number (usually on its face).

More baby cohos being shown to tourists at the hatchery.

So, why do they jump? Well, no one really knows.  Some say jumping helps loosen the eggs before it’s time to spawn.  Some research shows that salmon jump in response to pressure and stress.  Others just believe the fish are having fun. You know, the #yolo mentality! There are a lot of theories and explanations floating around, but no salmon has ever answered the question for us, so we may never know for sure.

Sitka Conservation Society employees feel the baby salmon nipping at their fingers inside the Medvejie hatchery.

May 08 2013

Sitka: A Tongass Salmon Town

In 2011, SCS began the Sitka Salmon Tours program.  The goal of the tours was to give visitors a salmon’s eye view from the forests where the salmon are born, to the ocean, the fisher and processor, and finally to our plates.  We’ve discontinued the Salmon Tours for 2013.  Instead, we have distilled all of the great facts, stories, and natural history  from the tours into this manual, “Sitka: A Tongass Salmon Town.”  Now anyone can be an expert on wild Tongass Salmon.  We hope that Sitka residents, guides, and naturalist will use this guide to share the miracle of salmon that attracts tens of thousands of visitors to this place each year.

Printed guides are available at the Sitka Conservation Society office.  If you’d like us to mail you a copy, send a request to info@sitkawild.org.  Bulk copies are available for purchase at-cost (about $0.80 per copy).

Download a copy of the manual HERE.

Oct 15 2012

Sharing Sitka’s salmon across the country

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.

Oct 09 2012

Sitka Salmon Shares: Madison, Wisconsin

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.

 

Aug 29 2012

Cultivating Salmon, Cultivating Community

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.

Jul 05 2012

SCS Recommends: The Rise and Fall of Alaska’s Canned Salmon Industry

An “uncanned” history talk about a critical piece of Alaskan history. Nic Mink, Asst. Professor of Environmental Studies at Knox College, will explore the growth of the canned salmon industry in Alaska by examining the development of Alaska’s economy, culture and the environment.  The talk is free and open to the public and will take place at 5:00 pm on Sunday, June 15th 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.

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.

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