We had already planned a story on a new Alaskan seafood delivery service, Sitka Salmon Shares when all of the sudden Seaspiracy happened. As Netflix released the hard-hitting, essentially “anti-seafood” documentary, it sent an alarming wave through the wellness community and shook eco-loving sushi lovers to the core.
At the same time, I received a freezer full of pristine, neon pink wild salmon from this small group of fishermen in Sitka. I rifled through the online photos of the nineteen families who make up the fishing co-op. I thought there must be more to the story than just a cold turkey (salmon?) approach to seafood — just as we’d learned with grass-fed and finished meats and dry-farmed, biodynamic wines.
We’re never been ones to shy away from controversy in our space and decided that our little seafood story was probably more relevant than ever.
Being a conscientious consumer is never easy — it requires a lot of research and a bit of jostling to navigate conflicting interests. The truth is, we may never have a global consensus on the “right way” to eat and that’s okay. We’ve talked to hundreds of doctors and nutritionists over the years and there are many valid approaches to clean eating, even if some of them conflict! One thing is for sure, every ‘body’ is different.
That said, we were thrilled by the Alaskan co-op’s response to all the hubbub and to learn more about the small family fishermen behind the brand. The short story? Just as you already do by hitting the local farmer’s market for fruits and veggies, ordering meat from foodie superstars like Butcher Box, and responsibly-grown wines from Dry Farm Wines, the answer right now is almost always to shop small. Know your farmer, know your fisherman.
Here’s our interview with Sitka Salmon Shares. Let us know your opinion on this topic in the comments!
The Chalkboard: Seaspiracy has gotten a lot of buzz! What do you want people to understand about it all?
Sitka Salmon Shares: We want people to understand that small-scale fishing (which was left out of the film) is a trusted alternative to industrial fishing. Sitka Salmon Shares and our small-boat fishermen offer an answer to the riddle of what is (and isn’t) a responsible seafood choice.
As a consumer, one of the best ways you can help improve the seafood industry and promote the health of our oceans is to support small-boat fishermen.
TCM: What is the difference between industrial fishing (called out in the film) and small-boat fishermen?
SSS: The industrial seafood system is broken — filled with fraud, destruction of marine life, human rights violations, and poor quality, all of which Seaspiracy highlights.
While the global seafood system suffers from mismanagement and unenforced regulations, Alaska is world renowned for its strict, science-based policies. Our small-boat fishermen harvest their fish from strictly managed and rigidly enforced fisheries and put quality and environmental stewardship first.
Small-boat fishermen using methods that minimize negative ecological impacts. Small-boat fishermen leave more fish in the water than bigger boats. Small-boat fishermen produce higher-quality seafood because they focus on quality over quantity. And small-boat fishermen are deeply invested in maintaining fisheries forever. After all, their livelihoods and businesses depend on it, and so does their future.
You’ll never find a fish from us caught with high-impact trawl or bottom trawl gear used in industrial fishing. Our harvesting methods include hook-and-line fishing, specially designed crab and shrimp pots, and small-scale salmon gillnets. These methods are designed to target specific species and minimize undersized or incidental catch. What’s more, these fishing methods bring you higher quality fish.
TCM: How does the Share Program better support individual fisherman more than the traditional wholesale/retail model?
SSS: The fish we deliver to members is individually caught by one of our fishermen-owners or trusted partner fishermen (who we hope are on their way to ownership!).
Our fishermen-ownership program makes us distinct from the competition and intertwines the success of the company and our fishermen in important ways. They’re a key part of, not apart from, our business, and hold important leadership roles and are active participants in the governance of the company.
Most of the world’s fish are caught by large factory boats that fish waters far from their home ports. We pay our fishermen above industry average and put dollars directly into the pockets of small scale fishermen. Our fishermen received an average of 15 to 20% more for their harvest, which can equate to thousands of dollars extra income in a given season.
The majority of our fishermen live year-round in coastal communities like Sitka, Alaska. They raise their families there, spend their money there, base their livelihoods there, and are invested in the long-term health of the community and ocean. Many small-scale fishermen are often living on thin margins and fish for a living because of the way of life it affords them, not because they are getting rich. Our model helps create a more just system that values hard work, high quality fish, and responsible, low-impact harvesting methods that help bring our members some of the best seafood on the planet.
TCM: This is almost like using a farmer’s market or farm box service. Do you agree? Are there other food programs like this you admire or are emulating?
SSS: We agree! Sitka Salmon Shares is like your favorite monthly CSA, only instead of fruits and vegetables you get seasonal seafood harvested just for you and delivered to your door through a community supported fishery (CSF).
Our CSF allows home cooks across the country to directly connect with a select group of small-scale fishermen, many of whom are owners of the company. Our fleet harvests fish specially for those who sign up for a “share” of their harvest. By signing up for a share, our members are investing in the seasonal fishing operations of small-boat Alaska fishermen who harvest wild fish in traditional American fishing communities.
We’re proud members of Local Catch, a network of fishermen and women, researchers, and community-based organizations across North America that are committed to strengthening local- and regional seafood systems through community supported fisheries (CSFs) and other direct producer-to-consumer arrangements.
We aspire to Local Catch’s core values and admire the other members of their network who go above and beyond to deliver a higher level of accountability and trust in the seafood industry.
TCM: How many fishermen are involved in the program?
SSS: The Sitka Salmon Shares fishermen collective includes more than twenty fishermen-owners along with trusted partners, and continues to grow.
TCM: Anything else you’d like to share about how the program is benefiting specifics fishermen or consumers? We love the direct touch.
SSS: We take pride in our unbeatable quality. Our standards for quality are unrivaled in the seafood industry — from the way our fishermen handle fish, to the dedication of our filleting team, to our utilization of blast-freezing technology that locks in sashimi-grade quality and fresh-from-the-ocean flavor.
Our fish is seasonally harvested within the limits of nature and we take shorter fishing trips so our seafood is blast frozen in a fresher state than industry standards delivering unparalleled freshness and quality.
We’re also raising the bar on trust, traceability, and environmental and social responsibility in the seafood industry through our actions. Our seafood is traceable to the source (the fishing vessel or trusted partner). We use honest labeling practices and our supply chain is as transparent as possible
For traditional companies, profit is the bottom line. We measure our success by our impact on people and the planet, as well as profits. We strive to create value and build a just seafood system by being good stewards of the planet and improving the lives of all people in our communities.
- We commit to the long-term health of the marine ecosystem, including celebrating its biodiversity by harvesting a variety of fish and respecting seasonality
- We use responsible, low-impact gear that minimizes bycatch-species that are unintentionally caught while trying to catch a target fish
- Alaska is world renowned for its strict, science-based policies to ensure fish populations are sustained for long term health
- We keeping a close eye on our carbon footprint, offsetting the transit of our product to our warehouses throughout the entire supply chain and continuously working to improve our packaging and supply chain