Know your fish: The Sockeye Lifecycle

Know your fish: The Sockeye Lifecycle

The 2019 fishing season was the sixth largest run of all time (Bristol Bay Fishing Report, 2019). The preseason forecast called for a run of 40.2 million sockeye with an actual return of 56.3 million, that is 33% higher than predicted, can you envision what an additional 16 million salmon look like? With such impressive numbers on a large scale, it is easy to overlook the equally impressive life cycle that each individual sockeye has in common.

The name Sockeye comes from a rough translation of the name Suk-Kegh, originating from the Pacific Northwest’s native coast Salish language dating back as far as 6,000 years ago, meaning “red fish.” Sockeye are also known as “blueback salmon” because during their time spent in the ocean they sport a metallic green-blue back which contrasts against their white bellies. And, of course, they are prized for their succulent, bright orange meat. As sockeye return to their spawning grounds, they go through an incredible transformation resulting in a vivid red bodies with bright green heads, hence the name “red salmon.” Males develop a humped back and hooked jaw that differentiates them from the females. This is the final stage in their life cycle.

Now, let’s take a look at the journey that got us here:

  • Sockeye return to spawn in June and July into freshwater river systems and lakes. 
  • Females dig small cavities in the sand and gravel called “redds” with their tails over several days, into which they deposit 2,000-5,000 eggs. Males then swim over these eggs and fertilize them. Both males and females die within a few weeks of spawning.
  •  The eggs hatch in the winter and the “alevins” remain in the gravel, feeding from their yolk sacks until they grow into “fry” and move into rearing areas. Fry will spend one to three years feeding on zooplankton in freshwater lakes. If there are no lakes, the juveniles will travel to the ocean immediately after coming out of the gravel
  • By now the young fish have grown into “smolts,” each weighing a few ounces; they are ready to make their springtime journey into the ocean. 
  • As soon as the fish enter salt water, they begin to experience rapid growth. Sockeye will spend up to five years in the ocean, travelling thousands of miles swimming in the counterclockwise current of the Gulf of Alaska. An adult sockeye can range between 18 and 31 inches and a weight of 4 to 15 pounds.

As mature salmon begin to return to their river systems in June and July, they are ready to be harvested. Tribal and First Nation groups depend on salmon returns not only for subsistence, but many ceremonial aspects of their lives as well. The Alaskan fishing industry also depends on strong salmon runs which can be seen in the thousands of jobs and millions of dollars contributed to the economies of both Canada and the United States. The looming Pebble mine is a direct threat to indigenous people and all Bristol Bay fisheries by potentially having a catastrophic effect on salmon populations, which would directly impact the lives of thousands of people.

Making their way upstream is the final step after their arduous journey, and as the sockeye lay their eggs, another life cycle begins. The mature sockeye die and their bodies provide nutrients that feed the developing salmon, insects, and aquatic plant life. An entire ecosystem, including bears and eagles are supported by spawning salmon…how can we not protect them?

Honey Garlic Butter Salmon

This meal can be prepared in under a half an hour. Plus, it has the added benefit of being cooked in a foil pouch to make clean up a breeze. If you prefer a crispier finish, bake in the over for 12-14 minutes, then finish on the grill. 
Recipe Inspired by: Karina, Cafe Delites
Serves: 4
Ingredients:
⅓ cup honey
¼ cup butter
4 large cloves garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (juice of ½ a lemon)
Whole sockeye fillet – about 1.5 lbs
Sea salt, to taste
Cracked pepper, to taste (optional)
Lemon slices (to serve)
2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley
 
Directions:
  1. Position a rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat oven to 375°F. Line a baking tray with a large piece of foil, big enough to fold over and seal to create a packet.
  2. In a small saucepan, melt the butter over low-medium heat. Add the honey, garlic and lemon, and whisk until the honey has melted through the butter and the mixture is well combined.
  3. Place the salmon onto lined baking tray. Pour the butter/honey mixture over the salmon, and using a pastry brush or spoon, spread evenly over the salmon. Sprinkle with a good amount of salt (about 1 1/2  teaspoons) and cracked pepper. Fold the sides of the foil over the salmon to cover and completely seal the packet closed so the butter does not leak.
  4. Bake until cooked through (about 15-18 minutes, depending on the thickness of your fish and your preference). Open the foil, being careful of any escaping steam, and grill for 2-3 minutes on medium heat to caramelize the top, if desired. Garnish with parsley and serve immediately topped with lemon slices.

Meet our fisherman: Wil Claussen

Meet our fisherman: Wil Claussen

Growing up landlocked in Colorado, I never spent much time near the ocean, let alone imagined I would end up as a commercial fisherman in Bristol Bay. I recently returned from my second season, and I can’t think of many things in my life I feel this connected to. Hard work and long days, beautiful scenery, catching people’s dinner, and being a part of a unique and competitive community, there are so many layers to being a fisherman and these are only a few. 

I got into this industry after moving to Washington on a whim and becoming fascinated with the boats while visiting Fisherman’s Terminal in Seattle. The rigging, shiny hulls and intricate nets were captivating, I needed to find a way onto a boat and eventually I did. A close friend mentioned to her dad that I was interested in working in Bristol Bay which ultimately led to my start as a deckhand on the F/V Anny Joy.  Cold-water surfing, heli-boarding, commercial fishing, they all require one thing in common – an ability to hone your focus under pressure, and perform. That fleeting moment is something that has become a slight addiction for me and I knew I could find it on a fishing boat. 

I’ll never forget my first season in Bristol Bay. Our captain decided that we would be fishing the Nushagak river, and another seasoned crewmember turned to me and said “The Nush will turn you from a boy into a man, I hope you’re ready.” Really helping my already rattled and overwhelmed confidence, right? It was brutal to say the least. The rain never seemed to stop and I nearly lost it trying to hold on to the few hours of sleep I could get during peak season, while bouncing so hard in rough seas, I thought I was going to hit the bunk above me. This was the moment where I drew the internal question of, “what am I doing here?” A moment that, looking back now, was a turning point for me, but not in the way you would think. 

It took a return trip to Seattle to realize why I was REALLY in Bristol Bay, one that I could have never known until now. Despite the intense working conditions and lack of sleep that pushed me so far out of my comfort zone, it was the bigger picture that I immediately missed within a week of being home. The hard work is just part of it, and is something each Bristol Bay fisherman must embrace, but there are so many other things that bring so many people together for the same reason. Comparing your catch over the radio with other boats, sharing meals and getting through hard times with your crew bring you close enough to feel like brothers. We take a stand against Pebble Mine and sustainably harvest this incredible resource that has nourished communities for many years. Becoming an Alaskan Fisherman quickly went from a paycheck to a form of merit. I couldn’t be more proud of what I do and that is why I continue to return each summer. 

Throughout my time in Bristol Bay I have fished alongside Steve Kurian, Captain of the F/V Ava Jane and owner of Pride of Bristol Bay. At the conclusion of the season, we were on our way to the Naknek airport in an old Ford truck, sharing our passion for fishing and talking about our plans after we get home. He mentioned to me that he was seeking someone to fill a position at POBB, and after hearing what he had to say, I quickly jumped on the opportunity. Fast forward a few months, here I am sharing with you my journey of becoming a fisherman and business developer for Pride of Bristol Bay. 

Commercial fishing has now come full circle, not only am I catching the fish, but helping to build a sustainable, community-driven operation that ships the highest quality sockeye directly to your door. It is an incredibly rewarding experience for me and I am thrilled to be able to share my story here as well as my passion and love of salmon and Bristol Bay. 

 

Cooked fillet of bristol bay sockeye salmon

Direct to Door opens Monday 9/23

A reminder for you! 

Our Direct to Door program will be open for orders of 2019 Bristol Bay sockeye portions and fillets Monday, September 23rd. After another successful fishing season, we are ready to offer the high quality sockeye you have been waiting for. Stock your freezer with our 20 lb. case (or save a little room for ice cream,) with our NEW 10lb. case. Whichever option you choose, both are shipped directly to your door for FREE!

We have also been working closely this year with our processor, Leader Creek Fisheries, to make significant improvements on the durability of the packaging of our products by increasing the thickness of vacuum packs and reinforcing the seals (more on this coming soon).  We remain dedicated to providing the freshest, highest quality salmon delivered from our nets to your door!   

Be on the lookout for our newsletter announcing the launch on Monday. If you don’t already subscribe, you can sign up at the bottom of our homepage to begin receiving our most up to date information, recipes and news from Bristol Bay! 

Cheers!

The Folks at Pride of Bristol Bay

Summer Recap- Our 2019 season in Bristol Bay

The fishermen of Pride of Bristol Bay saw a busy, successful season! 

“Patience is the word of the year.” 

Most people will never know the intensity of working on a gill netter in Alaska; it is a unique and exciting experience! We wanted to give you our take on the Bristol Bay season aboard our summer home to shed some light on our dedication to sustainability and quality in our product. 

“Patience is the word of the year,” said Captain Steve Kurian of the F/V Ava Jane as he reflected on this year’s Bristol Bay salmon season.

Many of you who fish for fun may be familiar with this feeling, but on the commercial grounds it can feel like it all happens at once and that no patience is required. Well, that was not the case this year as the weather was “hot, dry and flat” according to the fishermen. This change in situation required captains and crews put in extra effort to seek out the fish and steadily pick their way through the gear towards a successful season. 

Most bay fishermen enjoyed a lack of rough weather this year, but the fish follow those patterns as well. If the Bering Sea blows a strong wind into the river system, the fish certainly come with it. When there’s a light, consistent breeze, the fish make their way to their spawning grounds upriver from the fishing districts as always – just at a bit of a slower pace. As the Alaska General Seafood – Naknek beach boss, Joe Stewart put it on the final KDLG Fisheries Report of the year,

“It was a great season,” Stewart said. “Record number of fish, very steady, not the big waves of fish like usual.“ That was the experience on the Ava Jane this year, which served the new guys very well. This way, there was a bit more time to learn the ropes and get their sea legs.

Pride of Bristol Bay is grateful for the fish that came through as well as the local community who supported the team when the boat had a brief, but significant electrical breakdown. Yet again, patience was the word of the year. The boat was towed into Naknek by another member of the fleet (a tender) and fixed within just a few days. Thankfully, this occurred early on, and she was back in operation on June 26th. 

On a bay-wide level, the returns of sockeye are encouraging for ocean health. The Bristol Bay watershed saw a total run of 56.3 million salmon return to the river system this year. The harvest was the second largest on record, distributed in five river systems and closely monitored by the Alaska Department of Fish & Game. Again, this year saw another strong run in a world of much uncertainty. The weight of Pebble Mine, and the disappointing summer news about backroom (or Air Force One) deals, certainly weighed on the summer, but we are encouraged by an uptick in mobilizing around the issue in the community – noting more t-shirts, flags, and stickers rocking the bold “No Pebble Mine” logo. 

Thanks to all of you who share our dedication, and for following along with this issue on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. We see you working to spread the message to your friends and family.  Finally, we thank you for your patience as we found our own sea legs over the past year. Keep an eye on our social media as we share more about summers lived by the wind, tide and fish!  

Bristol Bay Curry

Salmon and Veggies Red Curry

If you want to impress your guests, this is the recipe to use. The combination of red curry paste and coconut milk is to-die-for. Your Bristol Bay Sockeye salmon cooks slowly in the sauce, resulting in tender fish that is as delicious as it looks. Serve with steamed rice.

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Servings: 4

Ingredients

  • 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil or ghee
  • 1 medium onion , chopped
  • 1 Pride of Bristol Bay Sockeye salmon fillet, cut into equal pieces, skin removed
  • One 13.5-ounce can coconut milk or cream
  • 1/4 cup water
  • tablespoons red curry paste
  • 1/2 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 2 red, yellow or orange bell peppers, thinly sliced
  • 1 medium zucchini, sliced into pieces
  • 1 yellow squash, sliced into pieces
  • ~ 1 cup spinach

Instructions

  1. In a large pot with a lid, heat the olive oil over medium. Add the onion and sauté until translucent.
  2. When the onions are tender, add the coconut milk/cream, water, curry paste, fish sauce, and stir until the ingredients are blended and the sauce is smooth. Be sure to keep your pot on the heat at medium to medium high. When the liquid boils, drop the heat until it simmers, put on the lid, and cook for 6-8 minutes.
  3. Add the salmon pieces, into sauce surrounded. Return the lid to the pot and simmer for 3 minutes.
  4. Gently turn the salmon over. Add the zucchini, peppers and yellow squash to the pot, submerging in the sauce. Return the lid and simmer until the salmon is done — it will gently flake apart, about 3 – 5 minutes. Once cooked remove from heat and scatter the spinach over the curry and cover again with the lid. The spinach will wilt quickly, ~ 2 minutes.
  5. Serve in bowls over rice. Enjoy!