After we finish up a fishing trip our next activity is to unload our catch so it can be shipped south. We do this painstakingly, one fish at a time. My cousin Kendall, who was in town visiting and just happens to be a pretty killer photographer, came along to document the event. Here are a few photos she snapped in between the action. I promise you, there was a lot less standing around than it appears...Read More
Survival suits on! Lines away! Hooks baited! The 2015 July King salmon opener has come and gone, and here we are - alive to tell the tale of it.Read More
SEASHAKEN is coming to a restaurant near you! Well, if you live in Santa Fe that is...Read More
It's true that there is nothing quite like a mound of succulent, oily smoked salmon bellies with crackers and cream cheese (as evidenced by the above picture). However, if you want to stretch that miraculous flavor just a little further, try permeating a big bowl of steaming chowder with the savory sensation of the smoked sublime. Here's a recipe to debut the first commercial batch of Seashaken Smoked Salmon!Read More
Want to be a true provider? A Daniel Boone kind of guy or gal? Do you also want to capture, on your own, the ancient magic of fish preservation, and be able to enjoy one of the most succulent and exquisite iterations of edible sea provender to boot? This one's for you then...Read More
Wondering how radioactive your halibut tacos are? Considering canceling your plans to go to the beach this summer? Have you been taking your Geiger counter to the grocery store? Maybe it's time to try and get a handle on some of the data on this whole Fukushima thing...Read More
So now you have this fish, what to do with it? Here are some brief tips about how best to thaw your Frozen-at-Sea salmon, as well as an idea for something to do with it after you've got it thawed.Read More
Pink salmon is low quality fish, only good for canning and basic protein consumption and little else. Right? No self respecting seafood connoisseur would actually want to ingest it. Right? Or maybe the pink is a poor and persecuted salmon and just needs a chance...Read More
Having trouble deciding which kind of salmon to buy? How to know what to do with all the superfluous names? The best way to cook a Coho? Here is a brief attempt to address some of these questions and help you figure out which salmon is the salmon for you.Read More
Or should I say rather building bonfires and watching movies and eating ice cream and searching for washed up treasures. No but really, work is being done, but it is all a very leisurely business. June fishing. Things really begin to happen in July, when King salmon opens and everyone is out to make a buck. For now we are gentlemen.
That said I am apparently being woken at four tomorrow morning to jump down into the freezer and glaze again. I'll take it as a tribute to my talents (I think rather that no one else cares to do it).
We have extra hands on board this trip. One, a very experienced fisherman - let's call him Ken (his name is actually Ken)- and I were on the back deck playing with hooks and pretending to fish and got to talking about my time at St. John's. Some tangent led us to the perhaps-apocryphal story of Archimedes and the crown. I got into the telling, at the end of which Ken turns laughing to Gregg and says, "This guy can really bulls*$!, you should have him work with me all the time."
Ah, what a thing it is to be appreciated.
I'm probably giving you all the picture that we don't work at all; maybe that if you order from us we shall never deliver and you will be rushing last minute to Albertsons/Sams Club/711-24hr-delicatessen for a shrimp melt to satisfy your seafood cravings. Never fear, o ye of little faith! Come King season we shall be working around the clock to bring you the finest salmon you've yet to eat. Believe you me. As of yet we are checking all systems are a go, and trying to see how many lingcod we can rustle up.
Not many. Not many at all.
Secrecy is still the name of the game. All I can tell you is that the morning began with two hours at 28 below zero glazing yesterday's catch. The nice thing about having a five-man crew (this is as much a social as an economic venture at the moment, with friends along for the ride) is that there was time for a nap on the back deck during an afternoon lull. We're catching enough to make the trip worth while but not enough to make it really work. There has been time for a little sport fishing in the evening - we've been eating well as a result. we have also gotten in some spectacular whale watching. At the moment we are anchored in the midst of a pod of humbacks; which are a lot of fun to watch but have terrible breath. Proximity has its drawbacks.
And lo I am transformed into a nature writer, better stop before I start trying to publish memiors. It's a good time to be in Southeast Alaska, I will say that much. Just wanted to give you a little perspective on where your fish might be coming from.
I am about to leave for a brief fishing trip to investigate the possibility of certain, promising fisheries which aren't as of yet main players in most fish markets in the contiguous United States. If it works out it may prove to be an excellent and sustainable food resource I can bring to you in the coming years. However, I cannot tell you more. Gregg (skipper extraordinaire) has a delicate mojo which involves a ritualized pre-trip mysticism of mystery so the fish won't hear us coming.
Happily I can now share all the gripping blow-by-blow details of the trip via my new James Bond technology (blog posting by satellite phone). Sadly this means no pictures for a little while. There is also a good chance that posts will be a good deal shorter, and probably more interesting.
Keep checking for more news. Good things are coming.
The hot topic at the moment in the world of retail seafood is AquaBounty's new and improved version of the Atlantic Salmon, fresh from the lab - aka the "Frankenfish". As the first ever Genetically Modified animal planned for human consumption the Shelley-an pop nickname is apt; after all, Shelley's narrative discussion of what happens when humans grasp the god-fire of science and are burned in the process cannot but point the reader to Genetic Engineering - the remaking of the world in our own image that often seems like a dangerous and blasphemous encroachment on the divine. As I was reading up on the recent news concerning AquaBounty, Frankenfish, the FDA, etc, etc, I found myself returning to the text of the original Frankenstein for inspiration. I could hardly have asked for a more appropriate source of commentary on the issue.
“Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change.” says Shelley, pointing at part of the difficulty for GM or GE food. See, how do we know if the popular backlash against Frankenfish is a rational response to a legitimate threat, or simply the public consciousness rolling around in pain at the magnitude of the change? Should we start picketing the FDA to ban Frankenfish or pop an Aspirin and make a salmon salad sandwich?
I would like to believe that “The labours of men of genius, however erroneously directed, scarcely ever fail in ultimately turning to the solid advantage of mankind.” Which is indeed what many proponents of GM say. And in a way, they may be right. After all, modern scientific techniques are but the newest wave of "genetic modification". We have been breeding animals and plants for gene specialization to make them more appropriate for our purposes since the dawn of agriculture. “Genetic engineering is not all that different from conventional plant breeding,” says Dr. Walter De Jong, an associate professor of plant breeding and genetics at Cornell University.
On the other hand, recent studies have pointed out that Frankenfish, if it escapes into the wild, can interbreed with other species - trout, in the experiments - to create Frankenfish 2.0. This frightening hybrid may out-breed both its progenitors to become UberFrankenfish, the blond-scaly beast of prey which holds us all in bondage.
"...once I falsely hoped to meet the beings who, pardoning my outward form, would love me for the excellent qualities which I was capable of unfolding.” - so says Frankenfish to the aquaculturists, the people his gene makeup was designed to please. According to the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators though "some fish farmers fear the negative reaction that consumers may have toward all farmed salmon" if the FDA approves our meticulously mutated friend.
AquaBounty promises that, to protect against the accidental escape and proliferation of Frankenfish, he will be engineered sterile (and female) and farmed away from the ocean and major waterways. Some states have actually legislated this to ensure that we are not reliant on the good will of the corporate fish farms to keep Frankenfish away from Elizabeth - I mean the wild salmon.
This decision has generally been lauded as a victory by environmentalists. And yet, how much of a victory is it? What is the real issue at hand? Certainly more scientific data is necessary concerning the possible ramifications of GM food on the environment, ecosystems, and our bodies. However that is not quite the whole of the matter with Frankenfish. These food retailers seem to have no qualms about selling farmed fish with un-modified genomes. Can't we make some of the same objections Frankenfish is hearing to any large-scale fish farming operation? The proliferation of disease, interbreeding with wild stocks, negative health effects in consumers - is any of this sounding familiar? Why should it be that Frankenfish elicits outrage and boycott while devastation caused by conventional fish farming goes practically unnoticed?
The fish farmers are right to be nervous about Frankenfish. Just as it seems consumer America is accepting the blatant defects of off-shore fish farming as market realities AquaBounty is bringing the focus back to all of aquaculture. Conveniently we can blame Frankenfish's genes as the source of original sin. I'm not denying that GM is a big, big discussion we need to be having, but there are serious issues we are not discussing because GM proves to be such an emotional topic. We don't just need to legislate that Frankenfish be kept away from wild stocks, we need to find legislation that protects wild fisheries in general - from GM, from fish farming, from unsustainable practices at sea.
Moreover, we can't allow big retailers like Target, Whole Foods, and Trader Joe's off the hook because they've said no to GM salmon. Are they supporting offshore fish farming? Fraudulent Alaskan Pollock? Unsustainable Tuna? If the answer is yes they need to be held responsible and not simply lauded for their hasty rejection of Frankenfish.
There is another problem we must address concerning the future of sustainable food production. As I have mentioned before, demand for seafood worldwide is growing by more than 8% a year. It is simply not possible, or responsible, to meet that demand by decimating wild stocks. If we want wild fisheries at all we might have to turn to versions of fish farming and perhaps even to GM to make up the deficit. Environmental organizations which decide that genetic modification is a priori 'bad' may not be doing us a favor. We should make these decisions based on careful science, not knee-jerk reaction.
"Man," I cried, "how ignorant art thou in thy pride of wisdom!”
The increasing popularity of the paleolithic diet-fad-cult is a veritable God-send for anyone in the business of trading in high quality animal or non-starchy plant parts. There is a ready made collection of marketing materials and an established consumer base surrounding the paleo movement just waiting to be tapped into. The praise for the diet is intense, bordering on fanatic: one crusader-for-the-cause posted that "The Paleo diet is the healthiest way you can eat because it is the ONLY nutritional approach that works with your genetics to help you stay lean, strong and energetic!" (caps, bold, and exclamation mark all his). The only problem is, I'm not sure how good I feel about telling you that any food-stuff added to the collective species-pantry after the advent of gardening is responsible for everything from hypertension to shortsightedness. I'm no evolutionary biologist, but I've read that we've been eating these grain things for a very long time.
Now don't get me wrong, I'm as in touch with my inner Neanderthal as the next guy (in fact, I've been told rather more than most, though I don't think it was meant as a compliment.) I don't really eat refined sugar or wheat much anymore and have even been known to go for a bare-foot run now and again. It just seems to me that caveman-nostalgia is a convenient way of projecting all of our modern problems on a mythical past. If you are curious about the evolutionary, biological, dietary, and generally scientific discussions of this phenomenon, I've been told that there are many excellent resources out there. Marlene Zuk's book Paleofantasy; Melissa McEwen's blog HuntGatherLove; and many other intelligent experts. I am not (an intelligent expert) and so I will not comment on the biological and physiological pros and cons of paleo diet. I am a sometime pseudo-student of philosophy and have, in my pseudo-studying, come across various ideas which share psychological territory with our modern paleofantasies.
For every ancient people there is an ancient-er one (that's archaeology right?) It is from the archetype of the ancestor that we inherit, or create, our mythologies. Behind so much of our Western mythos there is the shadow of the ancient Greeks, passing down their Gods and art and philosophy as part of the scaffold on which we built our modern identity. But the ancient Greeks had their ancestral scaffold as well. Homer, who was already pushing ancestor-status for the Hellenic peoples, tells us of the Golden Age; that pagan-Eden of harmony and prosperity. Even after that, in the time of the heroes and the Trojan war, we are given a standard by which to compare our degeneracy. The Iliad is rife with various Greeks throwing rocks "which not two men today could lift" at each other like badminton birdies. Think, if we've had another three thousand years to degenerate, how big must those rocks have been? I bet Achilles was on the caveman diet...
Ancestor worship is not exactly a recent addition to cultural praxis. Just because we dress it up in fancy jargon doesn't mean it isn't part of that fundamental human craving for myth-making. I'm not saying that it is necessarily wrong, but I don't know if it is right for the reasons it says it is. After all, do we need to refer to our hunter-gatherer predecessors to believe that fresh fruit, vegetables, and meat are better staples than Wonderbread and beer? (Not that you could get Wonderbread anyway. RIP Hostess, I miss your apple pies.)
All this to say that I don't think I need to dress up Wild Alaskan Salmon in tiger skins and use only flint hooks with cat-gut line (which of course we do, being Alaskan and all) to convince you that it is a healthy protein source. Fanaticism is a non-essential part of dietary health, in my opinion.
That said, let us remember the important place fish has in Western mythology. After all, how many of the Apostles were fishermen? Remember that symbol of persecuted Christianity ( I know you've seen it on bumper stickers)? The paleo diet may let you lift boulders not two men today could manage, but wild salmon lets you walk on water. Just sayin'.
As the Federal Government fines the Alaskan Pollock Trawl industry for fraud an intriguing and important question for anyone interested in sustainable seafood is driven to the foreground: how do we know when an industry is truly sustainable?
We have been lead to believe by the plethora of organizations which 'certify' various fisheries as sustainable that a flashy logo or an impressive acronym is secure assurance of an environmentally responsible product. Yet - here's the rub - that selfsame pollock industry at this very moment being fined by Federal authorities is a Marine Stewardship Council certified fishery. In the immortal words of Patrick Henry: I smell a rat.
It turns out that this isn't the first time the MSC has come under scrutiny for its choices. The Guardian newspaper released a story in January of 2011 under the provocative headline "Sustainable Fish Customers 'Duped' by Marine Stewardship Council". Since then the MSC has added a hundred fisheries to its certified-sustainable list. Effectively meaning that you should strongly suspect any MSC-certified fishery as possibly corrupt.
It just so happens that the Southeast Alaskan Salmon fishery is not MSC-certified. I have had many many individuals come to me and suggest that I, or another member of the industry, seek to renew our credentials (I believe we were, at one point, participants in the MSC system but that our certification lapsed several years ago). Thanks to this new intelligence concerning the worth of a rating by the MSC, I must say that I think I prefer we remain distanced from them and their questionable integrity. I wish that there was another rubber stamp that I could apply to my product to ensure that it came from a sustainable source, but frankly I am loathe to trust any of the various agencies like the MSC. Perhaps I will find one in the future that I am proud to be associated with, but as of right now I believe that the word of the fishermen and the caliber of the regional fishery laws and authorities are a superior guarantor to any third party organization - whether the source of its fallibility is blatant corruption or misguided good intentions.
Whole Foods and Safeway were ranked by Greenpeace as two of the most responsible seafood retailers in the country last year. How much of that rating - we must ask - comes from the authority of organizations such as the MSC? How much of it should? The fact is that social-responsibility sells (a wonderful development from 1910, I do say). The problem being that there is now a vested economic interest to appear socially responsible even if you're not. As the star of the popular television series White Collar so eloquently paraphrased Machiavelli - "perception drives reality". Unfortunately, I am an old fashioned realist. At least when it comes to what I eat. I want food that doesn't appear to be something based on the packaging, but actually is what it appears to be.
How about you?
I recently was reading Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nation for a class, and I happened across a passage that stood out to me. We (the royal, populist, liberal-rabble we) have long been distrustful of the promises from capitalism’s admirers that ‘a rising tide lifts all boats’ and that the market’s ‘invisible hand’ will translate private greed into public good. Criticism of this notion doesn’t surprise me, except when it is coming from the founding father of capitalist doctrine.
There are three economic classes for Smith. Property holders, who live by rents, laborers, who live by wages, and employers, who live by profits. The interests of the first two are linked with the interests of society - their boats indeed rise and fall with the tides of general wealth. Employers, on the other hand, are different:
The plans and projects of the employers of stock regulate and direct all the most important operations of labour, and profit is the end proposed by all those plans and projects. But the rate of profit does not, like rent and wages, rise with the prosperity and fall with the declension of the society. On the contrary, it is naturally low in rich and high in poor countries, and it is always highest in the countries which are going fastest to ruin. The interest of this third order, therefore, has not the same connection with the interest of the society as that of the other two. (Book 1, Chapter 11, Conclusion)
He then ends with an uncommonly strong injunction against the employer-class:
The proposal of any new law or regulation of commerce which comes from this order (employers) ought always to be listened to with great precaution, and ought never to be adopted till after having been long and carefully examined, not only with the most scrupulous but the most suspicious attention. It comes from an order of men whose interest is never exactly the same with that of the public, who have generally an interest to deceive and even to oppress the public, and who accordingly have, upon many occasions, both deceived and oppressed it.
Let us remember who the “employers” are in today's society; the big businesses, the congressional lobbyists, the international corporations - in a word, the people liberal-America has been railing against for years. Except this time it’s not liberal-America screaming, it’s Adam Smith. Conveniently, this passage from Smith is never quoted by the modern neo-conservative-free-market-demagogue; I wonder why... According to Smith it is in the interest of the employer class to destroy the country - no hyperbole added.
Let’s attempt to drag ourselves from the depressing rut of wealthist-exploitation and find the silver lining. I see the modern movement toward cooperative business as the response to precisely the danger Smith is spelling out. Cooperative ownership is an attempt, within capitalism (which I am personally a supporter of, in moderation), to create a business model which abolishes the employer class. By making the laborers and the property holders the collective-employers it links the interests of the employer class with the former two. Really, we are tying all the boats together. It’s the raft of cooperative business, we could say.
Join a co-op. Board the love-boat.
After yesterday's bout of globalization-guilt I learned that, according to NOAA, 91 percent of American seafood is imported, and not from Alaska (which still has not been recognized as its own nation, may Joe Vogler rest in peace). Or, mutatis mutandis, ONLY NINE PERCENT OF OUR SEAFOOD COMES FROM THIS COUNTRY.
This speaks to an incredible reliance on foreign fisheries and aquaculture. The majority of our tilapia, perhaps the only fish I believe is a viable and responsible farmed option, comes from China. This is a fish which is supposed to be outrageously easy to cultivate in a kiddie-pool in your back yard. Speaking of the iron-panda: According to the Patriot Ledger much of the cod sold up and down the east cost is "caught and frozen in Norway and cut in China". Your fish and chips went from Norway to China in order to be processed before ever ending up on a plate in Maine. However I slice it that comes to at least one circumnavigation of the globe before the actualization of each potential fish stick. I'm still having a hard time grasping how it can be economically viable for this to take place. Certainly there must have been some kind of egregious mistake. Could they have somehow missed when they sent the fish from Norway and passed unknowingly through the Panama canal in the night?
Simultaneously, Europe is scrambling to create new policy to deal with the problem of overfishing in its waters. According to the NY Times 80 percent of Mediterranean fish stocks and 47 percent of Atlantic stocks have been overfished. The globalization of the fish industry has obviously not been profitable in the greater sense of the word. Unfortunately though this trend does not appear to be spontaneously reversing itself. Fish demand has been growing consistently since the 70's (also NOAA) while wild fisheries flounder, meaning that international fish farming has increased by over 8 percent per annum to take up the slack. It doesn't take a weatherman to see which way the wind blows.
This information has inspired me to unveil the launch of Seashaken's new marketing campaign directed at Key West - it's still domestic people.
Disclaimer: I don't like white wine. Or at least, I don't normally. That said, I have been daydreaming of a fantasy-meal, as of yet extant only in my imagination. This summer I plan on grilling a white king salmon with butter and dill and serving it with a bottle of The Prince in His Caves wine made by the Scholium Project. These two ingestibles are perfect in so many ways. Firstly, they both are completely chromatographically deranged. A white king is, as I'm sure you would never have guessed, white. Strange, eh? TPIHC is not white at all but a brilliant amber-orange. This is because it is made from Sauvignon Blanc grapes fermented with the skins still on. This is probably why I like it. According to people who know significantly more about wine than I do, this rather uncommon method of winemaking creates whites which actually appeal more to red drinkers. There is some added complexity or depth or... (insert wine-jargon psychobabble here - oak - butter - tannins - leggy blonds - etc -etc) - it's great, is basically all you need to know. Couple this with a white king, my favorite fish by far, and we have a carnival of gastronomic magnificence (in case you haven't noticed, I'm trying to get 'gastronomic' into every blog post. If this bothers you, send me a new word. Maybe we can do a word of the week thing?) If you can get your hands on some white king get yourself a bottle of TPIHC and enjoy. Even if you just have regular king, get a bottle anyway. Really.
PS. Abe Schoener is the guy behind the Scholium Project wines, including TPIHC. He used to be a professor at my current college, St. John's in Santa Fe. He has an excellent lecture on food and cyclopses and very old Greek people which I highly recommend to you (check it out here). I also seem to remember that he sported a very purple scarf which spiffed up the lecture considerably, but I doubt that will come through if you are just reading. Keep it in mind though.
There is an inherent philosophical tension within the idea of starting a Community Supported Fishery in the Rocky Mountains. It's an obvious elephant in the room, so why bother trying to keep it hidden? I am attempting to connect a gastronomic community with a fishing community located thousands of miles away. Say it, how am I not just another contributor to the globalization of food resources? How can I claim to be a member of the food-sustainability movement and still plan on airfreighting product to my customers?
In the vein of the NPR radio essay series by a related title, let me tell you a few things I believe. Firstly, I believe that it is not impossible to remain a sustainable industry and still transport food sizable distances. Would it be more sustainable to only purchase food produced within walking distance? Absolutely. Would I prefer to be bringing you fish by means of helium-filled-pedal-powered-dirigible? I'm working on that one. The fact is the term 'sustainable' has so many more inferences than simple CO2 output. It is more sustainable to support a fishery overseen by biological experts and regulated according to scientific, rather than economic, standards than one on the brink of ecological collapse (see Jaired Diamond's book, Collapse, for a discussion of the international tuna fleet and under-regulation). It is better - I make a value judgement for all of us here - to invest in an industry that sustains the people and communities who depend on it economically and culturally; an industry that relies on, and has a vested interest in maintaining, the vitality of our oceans rather than one - I point not subtilely at offshore fish farming - which introduces hosts of pollutants and disease into marine environments. Not to mention the grossly inefficient use of food resources that sustains the farmed fish industry in the form of mulch, etc. And, ultimately, I believe it is more sustainable to consume a food product caught, processed, and brought to you by individuals you know in a manner you approve of than one veiled in the mystery of mass-market-meat-production with the chemical cocktail of hormones, antibiotics, and artificial colorings that it entails.
I suppose in many ways this entire discussion could wait, at least until after Seashaken has come to rival Whole Foods and Sam's Club as the proletariat's favored source of marine protein (notice my wishful use of the future tense, we at Seashaken are ever unconditional). And yet, it is a conversation I feel the need to have, for myself at least, from the very beginning. I have walked away from too many so-called 'sustainable' restaurants and supermarkets enraged by their blatant hypocrisy after finding out their seafood special was farmed salmon or Chilean Seabass. I do not want to become another distributor of sustainable-ish seafood. Too many food suppliers run on the premise of profitable mediocrity for my taste. So, here is the last thing I believe (for today): we can always become better. John Stuart Mill calls man a "progressive being", not electorally but existentially. Seashaken can be a progressive business in that it can always aim at being a little better, a little more sustainable. I believe that this must be a goal from the very beginning precisely so as not to become the west's finest purveyor of desiccated, semi-decayed farmed flounder. So, yes, someday I hope to be bringing you fish by bicycle-powered-zeppelin. I just need your help to do it.
One of the greatest psychological obstacles to be overcome within the world of seafood marketing is the notion that a fresh fish is inherently better than a frozen one. I see Whole Foods marking up farmed Atlantic Salmon all the time - a grossly inferior product - simply because it is fresh. The simple fact is that after five days or more on ice we are no longer talking about 'freshness', we are discussing degrees of bacterial decay. A flash-frozen fish is far closer in flavor and quality to one having been just taken from the water than its rather disingenuously named counterpart.
This article mentions the benefits of flash-frozen at the top of page two:
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