We spend our summers trolling Southeast Alaska’s pristine outer coast, open-water fishermen harvesting ocean-run salmon, wild as their surroundings. We chase king salmon through the shadows of glaciers, forty miles offshore in the Gulf of Alaska’s iconic Fairweather Grounds. For coho salmon we move inland, where the cold, clean North Pacific pounds a rocky shoreline crowned with a spruce-scented, seemingly endless green: the Tongass, the world’s largest remaining temperate rainforest, “America’s Salmon Forest.” Our companions are humpback whales and herring, brown bears and bald eagles, albatross and orca. This glorious ecosystem, meticulously stewarded with decades of strict conservation-based fisheries management, cultivates abundant salmon stocks. Every day, we marvel at the remarkable gift of having grown up doing this work, giving thanks for the salmon-loving friends who help us make fishing our life.
A Sea-to-Plate Story
The forty-three foot Nerka is a troller, meaning our kings and coho are all hook-and-line caught, harvested and handled one at a time. Driven by quality rather than quantity and with minimal bycatch, trolling is a beautifully inefficient fishery. That’s what we love about it.
Alaska’s summer salmon troll season runs July 1st through September 20th. We target ocean-run salmon – fish in the prime of their life, strong and fat, voracious feeders building up their reserves before the urge to spawn pulls them inland.
With just the two of us on board, quality begins and ends with us. We alone handle our salmon, and we handle them with reverence. Each salmon is thanked as it comes aboard, immediately bled, then headed, gutted, and catheter-bled. We perform a secondary cleaning: trimming loose tissue, removing any lingering membrane, confirming not a drop of blood remains in the veins.
Within an hour of landing – always before passing into rigor mortis – salmon are flash-frozen in our -40 degree fish hold. The Nerka’s refrigeration system effectively stops the clock, locking in a level of quality that “fresh” fish simply can’t equal. This is the frozen-at-sea distinction: when you work with one of the Nerka’s salmon, you’re working with a salmon that was, essentially, just pulled from the sea.
(For a better idea of what it’s like to catch these fish in the wild, read this excerpt from Tele’s upcoming memoir Hooked.)
One of our friends explained their devotion to Nerka Sea Frozen Salmon in this way: “When I thaw one of your fish, I can smell the ocean.”
Every few days, Tele bundles up to spend several hours in the fish hold, hand-dipping each fish into a sea water bath – twice! – to establish a protective glaze that prevents freezer burn and ensures a shelf-stable product. She packs the glazed salmon tightly in the fish hold, mindful not to break their fins, handling them with care through this final step.
We typically stay out at sea for several weeks – however long it takes until the hold is full – then return to our homeport, Sitka. There we unload our catch, carefully packing them into totes that are loaded into freezer vans and barged south to a cold storage facility. Then we go back out and do it all over again.
We repeat this process until the season’s September 20th close. Then we say goodbye to our Sitka family and point the Nerka south. Our commute takes us down the Inside Passage, navigating forested fjords and 12-hour nights for a safe return to our winter home, Bellingham. There we step into the other side of this business: sharing our catch with wild salmon-loving friends, local and nationwide.
Troll-caught Alaskan salmon are a “Best Choice” seafood (Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch.)
Fresh-frozen at -40, Nerka Sea Frozen Salmon are sashimi-safe.
We provide a reliable option though the winter months when fresh salmon are either not available or cost-prohibitive. Our chef and grocer friends know that, in choosing Nerka Sea Frozen Salmon, they’re guaranteed a consistent source for “fresher than fresh” artisan salmon.
We believe in treating our customers as what they are – partners, neighbors, and friends. We are enthusiastic collaborators, proud to promote our partners’ great works. We offer training to front-line staff on where their fish come from and how they were handled.
We share in-season updates from Alaska, including photos and stories from the fishing grounds. Several of our restaurants have hosted Joel’s photos in “Know Your Fish, Know Your Fishermen” art shows. Tele, an author, looks forward to coordinating book events with the partners carrying the very fish her book pays tribute to, upon her memoir’s 2017 release. We welcome creative opportunities to contribute to our community partners!
Nerka Sea Frozen Salmon is truly a family legacy. What Joel’s dad started in his first calls to local restaurants in 1998, we now continue. Ours is a sea-to-plate story, told with love. Love for all aspects of our work: the wild environment, our friends, and – above all – love for salmon. We believe harvesters bear a responsibility of stewardship. Organizations we support include the Alaska Marine Conservation Council, Salmon Beyond Borders, and Sitka Conservation Society.