Sustainable Salmon Fishing: An Interview with Sitka Salmon Shares fisher, Marsh Skeele
Photographs By: Kelley Jordan
Sitka Salmon Shares opened to bring sustainable fish harvests straight from Alaskan lures onto Midwestern plates in a way that respects the targeted and non-targeted species, the ocean environment, and Alaskan ecosystems vital to aquatic populations. Lofty as that goal may seem, the Sitka, Alaska- and Galesburg, Illinois-based organization did succeed in landing a handful of the most flavorful King Salmon, Black Cod and Dungeness Crabs to ever grace my skillet, onto my plate and into my belly, deep in the Great Plains. In addition to the taste, wild-caught salmon and cod provide a rich source of long-chain Omega-3 fatty acids, DHA and ALA, panaceas in much health-oriented literature. As news continues to detail poor nutrition at home and collapsing fisheries around the world, I’m heartened by the organizations like Sitka Salmon Shares with sound ecological practices.
I had the pleasure of corresponding with Sitka Salmon Shares fisherman, Marsh Skeele, whose responses have been lightly edited for clarity and concision.
How would you define a healthy stock population?
A sustainable fishery harvests at a level that leaves enough fish in the wild to reproduce and sustain healthy populations. This is the gist of what it means to be sustainable, but there are many other factors to consider. What type of gear is used to harvest the seafood? Is it harmful to marine ecosystems? Does it capture many unwanted non-targeted species? Is the ecosystem healthy enough to support a directed commercial fishery?
Alaska is a global leader in sustainably managed fisheries because of the policies that are in place, but also because it's such a productive marine ecosystem. Alaska's marine ecosystem is so healthy and productive, that a small percentage of the total wild stock is still a lot of fish. In 2014 alone, 717 million salmon were sustainably harvested in Alaska's waters. Even with this great volume of salmon, enough were allowed to spawn to ensure healthy future fish stocks.
Tell us a little about your fishing methods.
I troll for King, Coho, and Keta salmon. Essentially I am dragging 20-80 lures through the water with heavy lead cannonballs weighing the lines down. There are 4 lines, and clear, monofilament fishing lines, called leaders, run from each one. With the help of hydraulic fishing reels, I reel in the lines by hand until I reach the leader. After I let the line back out, I clean and pressure-bleed the fish. The pressure bleeding process uses a gentle stream of water to remove all the blood from the fish, extending its shelf life dramatically. Once the fish is cleaned and pressure bled, it goes directly into a slush-ice mixture in the boat's fish hold. Since I land each fish individually, I can live release any non-target species or "bycatch." I believe that individual handing and thorough cleaning ensures proper care and respect for every salmon.