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…)
Tech Gadgets for Mariners
Do you consider a laptop computer an essential piece of fishing gear? If you answered “no” you may be a member of an endangered species. Mariners are finding laptop computers are increasingly valuable at sea as more and more useful hardware and software hits the market.
One nifty combination of hardware and software starts with the easy installation of a GlobalSat USB GPS Navigation Receiver ($59.95 retail). As its name implies, you just plug in the USB cable into your laptop. The software comes by accessing an Open Source, free website to access navigational charts – www.opencpn.org.
Your laptop can now function as a plotter! Murray Pacific got the item 6 months ago ad can’t keep them in the store. TheGlobalSat USB GPS Navigational Receiver is also available at computer stores.
Black Box Electric Fishing
If you want to hear some good descriptions of just how sensitive fish are to electrical currents, talk to Malcolm Russell out of B.C. Russell Electronics is one of the few firms that sell the so-called “black boxes” — devices that can help fishermen control the currents that can actually attract fish. Russell’s father first developed the technology in the 1950’s and is considered a pioneer in the field, which has gained acceptance in both commercial and sport fishing for salmon.
Using black box electric fishing technology involves two main actions. The first is to examine the boat in question and assess the leakages of electricity into the water. The boat can be “electronically cleaned” by isolating sources of this electricity and placing sacrificial anodes at key places on the hull to create an ion stream off the back of the hull. (more…)
By Will Swagel
First published in the 2011 Sitka Harbor Guide
To most Americans, buying “Local Food” means a trip to the Farmer’s Market or out to a roadside farm stand.
But for a growing number of U.S. consumers “Local Food” is the fresh fruits and vegetables that come in boxes to their home on a subscription basis.
Organically-raised, humanely-slaughtered meat and meat products are sometimes added into the choices. These direct farmer-to-consumer relationships are promoted under the program acronym CSA – Community-Supported Agriculture. Subscribers buy a “share” of the harvest for a fixed price.
Here in Sitka, Alaska what “Local Food” usually means is the bounty of the icy North Pacific Ocean. All manner of critters – large and small – are pulled from these waters by fishermen of various sorts – commercial and charter; sport, personal use and subsistence; both Alaska residents and not. Halibut, salmon and crab may be glamour species – but top dollar is also paid for sea urchins, geoduck clams and herring roe on macrocystis kelp. Although many Sitkans keep their freezers full through their own efforts, the vast bulk of seafood is shipped out on barges, ships and airplanes to points all over the globe. (more…)
By Will Swagel
First published in the 2010 Sitka Harbor Guide
Unless you’re a fish, Sitka is a remarkably peaceful place.
But on Dec. 7, 1941 — and in the days and months thereafter – Sitka poised on the brink of world war. Soldiers and sailors scanned Sitka Sound and beyond and manned powerful shoreside batteries to blast enemy ships miles out at sea. Armed spotter planes flew over the Gulf of Alaska, searching for a Japanese fleet expected to invade first Alaska, then the rest of North America.
Six months later, the Japanese Navy bombed Dutch Harbor in Western Alaska. They seized the outermost Aleutian Islands, Attu and Kiska. Sitkans could well imagine they were living on the front lines of World War II.
Some war historians believe that the Japanese attack on Alaska was purely a diversionary tactic, but not Sitkan Matt Hunter. The U.S. Naval victory at Midway Island in the central Pacific tipped the war heavily toward the U.S., and the Japanese Navy never fully recovered. But, says Hunter, that victory does not make Alaskan fears of Japanese attack groundless. (more…)