Friday, August 23, 2013

Sustainable Fishing

Truck parked near the docks in Petersburg, Alaska
Alaska salmon is all wild, never farmed. The Blue Ocean Institute and Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch both rate it "green" -- that is, one of the most sustainable fish. "Abundance of salmon, particularly Pink and Sockeye, is high in Alaska due to good management and healthy habitat," writes Blue Ocean. "The majority of salmon is caught with purse seines, followed by gillnets and troll gear. These fishing methods cause little habitat damage and result in moderate levels of bycatch, typically other fish."
Tlingit food, display in Sitka National Historical Park
The Tlingit tribes that have lived in southeast Alaska for centuries depended on salmon, which they preserved by smoking or drying to make a variety of long-lasting foods. Traditionally, they also ate other seafoods, including seal meat, and used seal fat to preserve berries. Their fishing and hunting practices were very sustainable and efficient, but of course the population was small and there were no exports.

Boats in Petersburg (Len's photo)
Now the Alaska fisheries are among the most productive anywhere, and their products both fresh and preserved, go all over the world. In view of the utter depletion of other fishing grounds, such as Atlantic cod, it's encouraging that Alaska fisheries still seem sustainable.

Petersburg, which we visited, has only a few thousand people, but ranks sixteenth among US fishing ports, with a total of 101 million pounds of seafood, worth $65 million, caught in 2011 (source). When we visited, most of the salmon boats were out at sea where the salmon were running.

Petersburg Alaska (Len's photo)
 Petersburg fishermen also catch other Alaska seafoods rated environmentally responsible: Dungeness crab; red, blue, and golden king crab; pink shrimp, Dover and rock sole, and sablefish. Halibut, another valued fish, is abundant in Alaska. Monterey rates it green, but Blue Ocean classifies it as yellow (not as desirable) because of the danger of mercury.

As I wrote yesterday, we tasted several of these, as well as some type of rockfish (which I suspect is only available locally so the Alaska version doesn't appear in the ratings).

Cannery on the wharf in Petersburg
Now that I'm home, I am definitely missing the wonderful flavors of many types of fresh fish. However, I do try to comply with the suggestions of the two rating agencies that suggest responsible ways to eat seafood; as it happens, I shop for fish at Whole Foods which has partnered with both of them and committed to sell only recommended fish.

Both the Blue Ocean and Monterey ratings agree with the fisherman in Petersburg in condemning farmed salmon for its dangers to the environment. In contrast, by inspecting a variety of farms, Whole Foods claims to have identified responsibly and safely designed salmon farms that satisfy higher standards. These farms use "carefully monitored, low-density pens and tanks without antibiotics, pesticides or added growth hormones." They also are believed to prevent the escape of fish or their toxins and diseases into the wild.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Eating Alaska Salmon

Breakfast one day on the Sea Bird: locally cured lox with bagels, cream cheese, etc.
Serving himself: Justin the ship's fabulous diver, who narrated his dives as we watched videos
or (once) narrated live from underwater.
A dinner appetizer on the Sea Bird: smoked salmon from Petersburg, Alaska
White-fleshed King Salmon: a local Alaska delicacy served as our main course the last night of our cruise.
We also enjoyed dinners of pink salmon, whole steamed crab, crabcakes, halibut, rockfish, and true Alaska cod.
(If you count, that's all 7 dinners in our week on the boat!)
Pacific Northwest salmon for sale at Pike Place Market in Seattle
At Whole Foods in Ann Arbor today: Alaska salmon in cans -- as available in various brands for many years!
My mother made salmon croquettes from such salmon, including chopped onion and celery, egg, & cracker crumbs.
I think everybody's mother made something like that.
Whole Foods: fresh and previously frozen fish from Alaska.
Whole Foods observes the recommendations of the Blue Ocean Institute.
I'll say more about sustainable seafood in a later post.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Salmon, Bears, and Trees

Tlingit Totem Pole depicting salmon, Sitka Historical Park
Salmon! Last week in southeast Alaska we hiked and kayaked beside streams crowded with salmon swimming upstream to spawn and die. We saw salmon jumping in the waterways near our ship, the Sea Bird. We watched bears snatching salmon from the streams and eating their favorite parts. We heard lectures on the natural history of salmon and on its importance to the local native people, the Tlingit. We visited a fishing village, Petersburg. And several times, we ate local smoked, cured, or fresh salmon.

Salmon swimming up a stream (Len's photo)

Dead salmon in the stream
The salmon, we learned, are not just good for human food. They play an incredible role in forest ecology, bringing the nutrients they ate while at sea back to the forest where they were born: "When they return to spawn, salmon become a veritable conveyor belt for nutrients. For example, an adult chum salmon returning to spawn contains an average of 130 grams of nitrogen, 20 grams of phosphorus and more than 20,000 kilojoules of energy in the form of protein and fat; a 250-meter reach of salmon stream in southeast Alaska receives more than 80 kilograms of nitrogen and 11 kilograms of phosphorous in the form of chum salmon tissue in just over one month."

Trees by the salmon stream
Using all these nutrients, trees near salmon streams grow faster and larger than trees further away: beside the streams, "Sitka spruce take 86 years, rather the usual 300 years, to reach 50 cm thick." Growth rings in the trees are larger in years with good salmon runs.

"And just as trees need salmon, salmon depend on trees. Every part of a tree participates in enriching a stream for aquatic life, from its tiny needles to its strong twisted roots. Streamside vegetation shades spawning streams, keeping developing eggs cool." -- from "Why Fish Need Trees and Trees Need Fish" by Anne Post.

Distribution of the nutrients brought back from the sea by salmon is the job of the bears who fish in the streams and then spread the leftovers and their droppings nearby: "each adult female grizzly bear on the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska eats about 3000 lbs of salmon per year". The bears are much better nourished by salmon than by the berries and other plants or small animals that they feed on: "Grizzly bears that eat a lot of salmon are 80% larger, produce 25% more cubs, and live in populations that are up to 50 times denser than grizzly bears that fatten primarily on fall berries." -- Washington State University Bear Center.

The entire quality of the stream is created by nearby trees, birds, animals, insects, and other plants. All are nourished by salmon that died after spawning or were partially eaten by bears; the salmons' bodies particularly feed the insect life that later feeds the growing salmon larvae. A tight food chain!

From a kayak we saw this bear with a salmon in  his mouth: gulls were waiting for leftovers.
Note: for a quantitative study of the transfer of nutrients, see this: "Fertilization of Riparian Vegetation by Spawning Salmon: Effects on Tree Growth and Implications for Long-Term Productivity" by James M. Helfield and Robert J. Naiman

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Just before leaving Alaska

Happy Birthday to Len: our last evening on the Sea Bird
You can see the dining room behind us. The food was great,
and I'll be posting more about what we ate on our National Geographic cruise.
To celebrate our last afternoon on the boat, Alaska produced a double rainbow.
I hope it's a promise of peace and maybe more chances to travel to interesting places!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Pike Place Market

SaturdayMae 3
Seattle's Pike Place Market, right beside the docks, has fresh shellfish, regular fish,
and lots of fruit, vegetables, flowers, and miscellaneous stuff.
SaturdayMae 4
Jack's serves fresh market fish, their own smoked fish, and shellfish.
We enjoyed some oysters for a mid-morning snack.
SaturdayMae 1
We loved looking at all the fish for sale.
Then we had clam stew and crabcakes for lunch at the Steelhead Diner.
The Diner prepares the fresh fish and serves a bit more formally than this stand, which sells raw fish and
various paper cups full of shellfish to eat while walking around the market.