Sitka Seafood Festival Celebrates Salmon in the Tongass

The fish head throwing competition was just one of the many games and competitions at the Sitka Seafood Festival on Saturday, August 5.

The last marathoner in the Sitka Cross Trail Classic ran confidently across the finish line as the Sitka Seafood Festival parade started to get underway on Saturday. Floats spewing bubbles and candy made their way down Lincoln Street towards the Sheldon Jackson campus just before noon on August 5 as just one part of a weekend-long celebration of successful wild fisheries in the Tongass National Forest.

Floats traveled down Lincoln Street on a sunny and clear Saturday morning, just before the marketplace opened at the fourth annual Sitka Seafood Festival.

"It's a celebration of how lucky we are," Cherie Creek, a regular volunteer at the festival, said. "We are a seaport and have tons of fisheries and fresh food."

On Aug. 1 and 2, the community gathered for the fourth annual Sitka Seafood Festival. The festival included a marathon, kids' races, cooking demonstrations, food booths, festival games, a fish head toss and the parade.

While it is a community event, Creek said she enjoys having people from out of town join in the festival activities. Her favorite event of the festival is the children's crab races.

Food booths like this one, which served King salmon and crab legs, filled the marketplace. Hundreds filed into the marketplace after the parade to try different seafood treats.

The Sitka Seafood Festival is a great way to "show off to visitors how important seafood is to the Sitka community," Lon Garrison, president of the Sitka School Board said. He said he enjoys celebrating the well-managed and sustainable resource of the Tongass every year.

Garrison also participated in a new event at the festival this year: the Fish to Schools recipe contest. He helped judge 8 different recipes provided by locals to find the new recipe to be used in local schools this fall. The Fish to Schools program, initiated by the Sitka Conservation Society, brings locally caught fish into school cafeterias twice a month.

At an event new to the Sitka Seafood Festival this year, judges gathered to decide which local, kid-friendly recipe would be a part of the Fish to Schools program this fall. The Fish to Schools program brings locally caught fish to school lunches twice a month in Sitka and is now a state-funded program.

One in ten jobs in Sitka is related to the fishing industry and theTongass National Forest provides 28 percent of all salmon produced in the state of Alaska,so the festival really does rejoice in local endeavors. It's something outsiders can't help but take notice of.

"Everyone I've met has some kind of tie to fishing," Ali Banks, a visiting Chicago chef said. "It really drives everything."

Banks teaches in a recreational cooking school in Chicago and uses salmon from Sitka Salmon Shares in her classes. She said she encourages her students to buy wild rather than farmed fish because there really is a difference in quality. She also writes basic and fun recipes for the Sitka Salmon Shares website, which distributes mostly in the Midwest.

Chicago chef Ali Banks taught a small crowd how to make homemade pesto for seared coho. She said many were surprised by her choice of recipe, but she wanted to bring a creative flair to a dish that people in Sitka eat all the time. In Chicago, eating fresh fish is a novelty, she said, so Chicagoans like to dress up their fish perhaps more than Sitkans would.

Traveling to Sitka for the seafood festival was a real treat for Banks. She spent a few days in Sitka out on a boat fishing. "I got the best Alaska has to offer," she said. "I love knowing where my food comes from."

Sitka, a community of 9,000, will continue to celebrate the success of the wild fisheries in the Tongass National Forest all summer long.

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