by Tele Aadsen, Co-owner of Nerka Sea Frozen Salmon
Joel Brady-Power, co-owner of Nerka Sea Frozen Salmon, takes in the majesty of Southeast Alaska from his “office.” Photo by Tele Aadsen.
Dawn breaks early on July first. Forty miles off the Southeast Alaska coast, light splinters the Fairweather Range as our hooks descend into the blue. It’s not yet 3 am.
So begins the Nerka’s salmon season. For the next three months, she’s the 43-foot workplace, home, and universe my partner Joel and I share at sea for weeks at a time. We are trollers. Not to be confused with net-based trawlers, Joel often describes trolling as the most inefficient commercial fishery. He says this affectionately.
Trolling’s one-fish-at-a-time, quality-over-quantity ethos is what we love about our work.
And we do love it. Ours is a family operation, two boat kids lucky enough to build a living out of the life we both cherish. Even the Nerka herself is family. Joel’s parents, Don and Mary Jean, had her built in 1979. She took Joel to sea when he was just two weeks old. Twenty-two years later, he made the leap from carefree crew to Cap’n J. I joined him in 2006. We’ve been a team since.
A sudden tug catches my eye.
A sudden tug catches my eye. I engage the line and pull in one lure after another, a meticulous rainbow of squid-like “hoochies” alternating with brass “spoons.” Joel devotes himself to the enigmatic art of enticing king and coho salmon to bite. He’s a salmon charmer.
A smooth back breaks the surface. Scales glitter—silver, amethyst, jasper, jade. With the line tight in one hand and a precarious belly-to-rail pose, I promise this will be quick. Meeting her golden gaze, I lower the gaff. All my weight goes into that killing blow.
If Joel is a salmon charmer, I am a whisperer, murmuring thanks as I slice her gills. A gesture— meaningful, hokey, or hollow, depending who you ask—I murmur anyway.
The hooks go back out. I reach for the salmon, knife in hand. Two quick slices, there rolls the head. Entrails go flying with another few cuts, to eager seabirds, both fulmars and albatross, clamoring in our wake. I flush the remaining blood from the veins and trim any lingering loose tissues. Joel, next to me, tends his catch with matching precision.
This is the distinction of frozen-at-sea (FAS) salmon
We’ll do a final inspection before they go into the Nerka’s negative-40 degree hold. This is the distinction of frozen-at-sea (FAS) salmon: unlike “fresh” fish (delivered up to five days after being caught), our sashimi-safe fish are blast-frozen before passing into rigor mortis, freezing the clock on cellular breakdown. Thawed nine months later, a properly handled FAS salmon boasts the taste and texture of one just pulled from the sea.
Come September, we’ll trade the Gulf of Alaska for our land-home in Bellingham. Joel will spend the winter repaying the Nerka for her service, doing repairs and preventative maintenance. I’ll continue the business Don started, sharing our catch with chefs and grocers throughout Whatcom and Skagit counties. Many have been with Nerka Sea Frozen Salmon since our 1998 origin; January 2017 marks the Co-op/Nerka’s 10-year anniversary.
from wild lives finning the shadows of glaciers to their final moments
Studying the orange flesh, I wish our partners could have the gift of knowing these fish as we did, from wild lives finning the shadows of glaciers to their final moments, as quick and respectful as we could make them.
Sustainability requires conscientious consumers who are active salmon advocates.
Alaskan salmon are a “Best Choice,” yet responsible fishery management alone doesn’t ensure sustainability, and fisherfolk are a tiny group without political weight. To preserve future abundance, we need our partners to read Amy Gulick’s Salmon in the Trees to understand the critical symbiosis between healthy forests and healthy salmon; visit SalmonBeyondBorders.org to learn how Canadian mining threatens Southeast Alaska’s biggest coho spawning rivers; watch The Breach to see how dams have devastated Pacific Northwest stocks, then join Save Our Wild Salmon’s “Free the Snake” campaign.
we chase silver dreams across this surging ocean
For now, though, dawn is breaking. Another 18 hours on deck await, a laborious marathon blurring into tomorrow, and the tomorrows after that, as we chase silver dreams across this surging ocean, just my salmon charmer sweetheart and me.
Troll, Catch, Glaze, Deliver
The Nerka trolls for king salmon below Mt. Fairweather. Photo by Jeff Thomas.
Tele lands a king on the Fairweather Grounds. Photo by Joel Brady-Power.
Tele emerges from the -40 degree fish hold after hand-dipping each individual fish. Known as glazing, this is the final step in frozen-at-sea salmon. Photo by Joel Brady-Power.
Joel and Tele deliver their king salmon catch in Sitka, Alaska, and prepare to barge them down to Washington. Photo by Martin Gowdy.