A Unique Fishing Town
With a port facing the open Pacific and the protection of Sitka Sound’s many islands, this town has been shaped by the sea.
Present-day Sitka is a top Alaskan fishing port and a much sought tourist destination. Cruise ships and yachts bring thousands of visitors from the sea – and many who arrive by air also venture out in boats.
Sitka’s ocean bounty and strategic port must have lured Tlingit Indians to Sheet’ka – their name for the spot where tall mountains, thick forests, and abundant wildlife met the edge of the sea. One of the ocean’s best gifts was the great herring spawn in Sitka Sound. Herring eggs are a Tlingit delicacy and Sitka Natives bartered their eggs for other goods in an elaborate trade network reaching as far as what is now mainland Canada.
Today, Sitka fishermen and women catch Chinook, coho, sockeye, pink and chum salmon; halibut; black cod, rockfish, herring, Dungeness crab and shrimp. Divers harvest geoduck clams, sea cucumbers and other seafood. Along the shore, fish processing plants operate 24/7 during portions of the spring, summer and fall seasons. (more…)
Chatting with Stan Eliason
ANB Harbor, first built in 1956 and last renovated in the 1980’s, is the oldest of the city’s five harbors. By 2014, it’s going to be the newest.
A complete replacement of the entire float system and pilings at ANB Harbor is scheduled for this year.
“The problem is flotation,” Eliason said. “We had a meeting down there (at ANB Harbor). There were four of us on the float and we had to disperse our weight to keep from sinking.” He said ANB Harbor has been costing a lot of money and staff time to stay ahead of the spreading deterioration.
After ANB’s refurbishing the stall configuration is to be mostly the same, except that there will be one fewer 50-foot stall and some of the skiff stalls will be eliminated. This will allow the other stalls to be widened, as well as lengthened, because boats are getting wider, Eliason said.
Another site ripe for replacement is the Transient Dock, which can be seen from the Harbor Department building at Thomsen Harbor. Eliason said the city is pursuing help from the state to replace the 40-year-old dock. “The structure is failing,” Eliason said. “We had to throw in $60,000 last year in emergency repairs.”
By Will Swagel
First published in the 2013 Sitka Harbor Guide
Fishermen are a famously independent lot who sometimes get accused of letting their independence get in the way of their own long-term economic interests. Well, the more than 500 fishermen-owners of Seafood Producers Cooperative (S.P.C.) can tell their accusers a story that shoots that reputation right down
It’s a story that goes all the way back to the 1940’s, picks up in Sitka in the 1980’s and continues big time today. The fishermen-owners of S.P.C. produce eight million lbs. of catch annually, netting $44 million in gross sales revenues. With buying stations up and down the West Coast, S.P.C today is the oldest, largest and most successful fishermen’s cooperative in North America.
“The fishermen deliver their catch to their own company,” said S.P.C Sitka Plant Manager Craig Shoemaker of the Coop’s business plan. “We process the fish and market it for the fishermen, returning dividends to the fishermen, above and beyond what they would normally get if they sold their catch for cash.”
Shoemaker explained, for example, that halibut might be fetching $6 per pound at the dock. After the product is sold, S.P.C fishermen might get a 5 percent dividend – 30 cents extra per pound.
“We call it percentage over dock,” Shoemaker said. The rest of us might call it a chunk of change.
Tech Gadgets for Mariners
Affordably-priced 2-way texting is now available outside of the cellular area. The DeLorme InReach device (and free app) transforms your smartphone or tablet into a two-way text message global communications device and a GPS viewer.
The InReach device also offers a number of safety and navigational features. It costs about $250.
InReach allows you to compose and send text messages of up to 160 characters. You can even post to Facebook, Twitter or your own shared map. An interactive SOS feature allows mariners to describe their situation in detail to rescuers and stay in touch.
DeLorme claims GPS accuracy to within 5 meters. You can download NOAA charts and other map materials and access them even when you are outside of cellular range. You can mark and transmit your progress by leaving electronic “breadcrumbs” that show the way you came.
The InReach – which came out in summer 2012 — is compatible with both Apple and Android devices. The 7-ounce InReach device is waterproof, dustproof and it floats. It works on lithium, NiCad or alkaline batteries.
By Will Swagel
First published in the 2012 Sitka Harbor Guide
“Local surf & turf,” is how my sweetheart and I dubbed our 2012 Valentine’s Day locally-harvested dinner of stewed venison and pan-fried coho.
The melt-in-your mouth venison chunks and flakes of salmon were perfect, but, being a culinary barbarian and old-school, I reached for the salt.
And then I remembered that I had been given a sample of fancy finishing salt, made from the salt water right off our shore and produced in a building off Sawmill Creek Road. You can’t get more local than that!
Talk about perfect flakes! The Alaska Pure Sea Salt I sprinkled on my repast is made of countless little crystalline pyramids of sodium chloride that feel crunchy, but melt on your tongue and release a clean saltiness, quite different from ordinary table salt and quite delightful.
Jim and Darcy Michener of Sitka are the two entrepreneurs behind Alaska Pure Sea Salt Co. As with many great endeavors, serendipity played a role, one very much in line with Valentine’s Day.
Jim, a charter captain and wilderness instructor, and Darcy, an optometry technician, met in Sitka in 1993 and got married six years later. They spent their honeymoon at a Forest Service cabin on Moser Island in Hoonah Sound – and they have returned to the cabin each year since. (more…)