Sitka is located on Baranof Island… in the heart of the Tongass National Forest, the largest temperate rain forest in the world… Access to Sitka is by air or water only. While an influx of Russian Traders and American colonists in the 18th and 19th centuries has resulted in a mixed citizenry, the total Tlingit population has now rebounded…

The mission of the Kayaaní Commission is to preserve our spiritual way of life. The religion of the Tlingit was the Earth. The Tlingit are one with the Earth. (We are) here to preserve and protect traditional ways of our ancestral knowledge.

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Some folks get their start in seafood processing at a tender age. Now a policy engagement director for the Sitka Conservation Society, Katie Riley worked in the Packing Room at Sitka Sound Seafoods (SSS) for two summers at age 18.

She started by printing labels that gave the weight, price, etc., to go on 50# boxes of frozen fish heading south – her title was “Labeler.” The second year she became “Labeler & Expediter.”

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These days, in marine science education in Southeast Alaska, turns out that “sharing” is the name of the game.

Much of the philosophy (and some of the structure) of scientific sharing that now exists in this place is largely the offspring of Sitkan Jan Straley. Having lived in Alaska since 1979, Straley is famous for her decades-long research, writing and photography about whales. Equally important, though perhaps less well-known, is Jan’s influence on at least two generations of Alaskan scientists.

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During the 1980s, in the spring of each year, halibut fishing in Sitka resembled a combat zone. Massed on the fishing docks and back decks of longline fishing vessels were (mostly) men – deckhands and skippers surrounded by endless buckets of stainless steel circle hooks connected to miles-long poly-line, gearing and baiting-up to hunt the (up to) 400-lb. flat fish.

In those days the catch quotas were filled by any fishermen who wanted to fish and it was known as a “derby” fishery.

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Commercial fishing has always been at or near the top of the list of the most dangerous jobs in America. But after decades-long efforts from many organizations in and outside Alaska, as well as government safety requirements for vessels and mariners and a change in fishermen’s attitudes toward safety, the number of fatalities has been greatly reduced.

High among the groups helping to make fishing safer is the Alaska Marine Safety Education Association.

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If you see Sitka longliner Mike Mayo at the helm of F/V Coral Lee, you’re looking at a man of contradictions. Mike embodies the rough-and-rugged image of the Alaska fisherman, but he was initially trained as an accountant and didn’t wet a line, commercially, before his mid-20s.

He is a demanding captain, but is generous with those who work for him and in his adopted home port of Sitka, where he is well-known for his philanthropy. The head of a large family and a lover of life, Mike is quietly philosophical about his several close brushes with death. He can be alternately perceived as a hard-as-nails businessman, a holy man or Santa Claus.

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What a difference a year makes!

The Eyak, an integral part of the Sitka waterfront, tore a chunk out of her middle on a rock near Goddard Hot Springs and sank on Jan. 19, 2015. On Jan. 24, 2016, the Eyak was back in the water, ready to faithfully carry mail and haul cargo to Port Alexander and other points on southern Baranof Island.

Skipper Dave Castle, three passengers and Castle’s dog Olive all escaped the sinking without injury, but the material loss was in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

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About 4 a.m. on Jan. 19 near Goddard Hot Springs, the well-regarded Sitka mailboat and tender Eyak slammed into a submerged rock and tore out a chunk of her middle. Skipper Dave Castle was at the helm when he felt the impact. Castle had been dealing with finicky radar and heavy weather. A quick check of the damage showed a large hole.

“It was too big to even think about pumping,” Castle said. Three other people and Castle’s dog Olive were on board. After issuing a distress call, they donned survival suits and deployed the life raft. Castle plugged vents to keep fuel from leaking. Two people boarded the raft and a third held the line.

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At a number of Sitka embarkation and debarkation points, residents and visitors have been delighted by the distinctive metal signs.

At the entrance to ANB Harbor on Katlian St., a white and brown aluminum rendering of a troller on blue water floats above metal letters. Halfway up Raptor Way, the road to the Alaska Raptor Center, a metal eagle sports a prominent yellow beak and silvery white head feathers. At the cruise ship lightering dock beneath the O’Connell Bridge, a two-sided “Welcome to Sitka” sign is a 10-foot wide study in the textural, tinted and heat-induced color possibilities of art using steel, stainless steel and aluminum.

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If you do thing often enough, it becomes habit. If you perform a service for enough people for enough time, you become infrastructure.

Skipper Dave Castle and his vessel, F/V Eyak, qualify as Baranof Island infrastructure. They are a vital link between Sitka and the few hardy people who live in Port Alexander, at the hatchery at Port Armstrong and at the government research station at Little Port Walter.

Once a week in winter and twice a week in summer, Castle delivers to these outposts food and all manner of supplies. What makes him infrastructure is that he also carries the U.S. mail.

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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 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.

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“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!

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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.

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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.

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