Sunday, September 24, 2017

Salmon Run

Seward (and Alaska) is shutting down. I know things would be slowing down, but I didn't expect things to be literally shutting down.

I had rushed from Fairbanks to Anchorage so that I could catch the last Alaskan Railroad train of the season from Anchorage to Seward on 17 Sep. It is reputed to be one of the most scenic train rides, and I am very glad I managed to catch it. I was impressed.

But on reaching Seward, I found that the train was not the only thing that is "last". The free city shuttle was also running its last day, and of course, more than half of the train passengers on the train were catching the last cruise ship sailing out of Seward. A lot of the tourist facilities were also not operating, like the shuttle to the Exit Glacier, one of the main attractions of Seward!

In any case, Seward is a great place to chill in. I enjoy the walks along the waterfront, with the mountains right in front, and the otters cruising lazily in the waters. And I saw a number of the locals whisking their fishing rods on an inlet from the sea into the streams. What a strange way of fishing! I ventured closer.

Local "fishermen"

After looking at the scene for a while, I finally realized that there were salmon wriggling upstream from the sea into the inlet. The fishing rods had a 3-pronged hook with  no bait, and the "fishermen" were literally whisking the rods and lines to hook up the salmon! September is the last of the Silver Salmon (one of the species of salmon here in Alaska) run where they are returning back to Seward to spawn.

Next day, I again took my walk along the waterfront. I went near the harbour where hundreds of empty boats lay anchored. On the dock, rows of water hoses hung loosely from a rack like some forsaken manufacturing plant. I would imagine just a few months ago, this would be filled with people washing and filleting the salmon brought in by the boats. And breaking the silence and monotony of the harbour, a man was systematically washing and filleting a salmon.

Water hoses on the dock for washing/filleting fish

Local resident Dwayne, like most Alaskans, was really friendly and I quickly got into a conversation with him even as he continued his washing and filleting. He has a boat which he brings out to do his fishing, and the morning catch saw him net just four salmon. It was really the tail end of the salmon run, and he actually had to throw away one of his salmon because the fish meat was "white and not good" already. The salmon was actually already dying even before being caught. Every resident is entitled to catch only 6 fish a day, and for foreigners, a permit/license is needed for fishing. It costs us$25 for the permit which would be valid for 24 hours and entitled the same quota of 6 fish.
It was quite an interesting and educational talk. I do not know if these numbers are for Seward only or Alaska-wide, but it is a form of sustainable fishing and food policy. And as many may already know, the salmon spawns in inland rivers, and they would swim out to the open seas to spend their adulthood. Then, when reaching maturity, they would uncannily swim back to the exact river(bed) where they were born, and lay their eggs, and thus the cycle continues. This order of Mother Nature have been cleverly used by humans, as they would harvest salmon eggs and milt, and "plant" them in rivers of Alaskan communities. The resulting spawn would get their "imprint" of their birthing riverbed and thus began their biological cycle. And when they return, the communities would be ready to harvest them, and with proper policies to ensure enough salmon get back in to spawn, it is a wonderfully sustainable practise.

Dwayne with his filleted salmon

And then Dwayne asked,

"How long are you staying in Seward? Do you have access to a kitchen?"

My eyes lit up.

"Oh yes, I am staying in a hostel for a few days and they have a kitchen!" I said somewhat pensively, not daring to get my hopes too high.

"I could give you a fillet if you want." The magical words came out.

"That would be awesome! Thanks!" I exclaimed!

The delight didn't stop. Imagining what a fillet of salmon would be in Singapore, I was hoping for a generous cut. Instead, he just handed me one-half side of the entire salmon!!

"I don't have an extra bag though" He said.

I didn't mind one bit. And it was not long after when one can see a figure in bright red jacket scurrying along the road with a bright pink piece of meat on his hand...

My gift of wild-caught salmon that will last me 3-4 meals :)

Travel in Alaska is expensive - transport, accommodation and food are expensive. But these little experiences not just add colour to my travels, but saved me quite a bit of money too! Wild caught salmon is not cheap, even in Alaska!!
And with my 25c instant noodle (cooked dry) with soy sauce, super-sweet cherry tomatoes, and my wild-caught, homecooked, pan-seared salmon, it was one of my tastiest meals in Alaska!! :) :)

I am happy! :)

Pan-seared salmon with "instant noodle"

More glorious salmon - pan-fried with crispy skin..

Salmon easily caught

Many of the locals throw away the roe!!

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