• Alaska Seafood Species Overview: A Chef's Primer on Alaska Seafood

    With a variety of different species, wild Alaska seafood offers a delicious, distinctive option for just about any menu concept or price point. Each species has key attributes, including flavor profile, texture, oil content and size, but many of them are interchangeable once you understand the similarities and differences. Feel free to experiment.

    Alaska Salmon Fact Sheets:

    Alaska Salmon Fact Sheet
    (748 KB PDF file)

    Alaska Whitefish Fact Sheets:

    Alaska Black Cod Fact Sheet
    (861 KB PDF file)

    Alaska Cod Fact Sheet
    (527 KB PDF file)

    Alaska Halibut Fact Sheet
    (551 KB PDF file)

    Alaska Pollock Fact Sheet
    (984 KB PDF file)

    Alaska Rockfish Fact Sheet
    (661 KB PDF file)

    Alaska Sole Fact Sheet
    (573 KB PDF file)

    Alaska Shellfish Fact Sheets:

    Alaska Dungeness Crab Fact Sheet
    (870 KB PDF file)

    Alaska King Crab Fact Sheet
    (532 KB PDF file)

    Alaska Scallops Fact Sheet
    (528 KB PDF file)

    Alaska Snow Crab Fact Sheet
    (555 KB PDF file)

    Seasonal Availability

    The Alaska Seafood Harvesting Seasons Chart reflects the timeframes of typical harvesting seasons for commercially harvested Alaska Seafood species. In addition, the reverse side includes a map identifying the general fishing areas of Alaska.

    Alaska Seafood Harvesting Seasons Chart
    (378 KB PDF file)

    Preview of the Alaska Seafood Harvesting Seasons Chart

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    Harvesting Alaska Salmon

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    Trolling

    In Southeast Alaska, the first commercial fishermen to encounter returning salmon are members of the troll fleet. Trollers are small fishing vessels operated by one or two fishermen who fish with a number of lines and hooks baited with herring or artificial lures.

    They're allowed to fish beyond the inshore limits set for net fishermen, and also generally have more weeks in the year to fish. Troll-caught fish are typically harvested as they move inshore and are called "brights" or "ocean caught."

    Less than ten percent of Alaska Salmon are caught through trolling. And only Coho and King are the target species of the catch. But what these troll-caught salmon lack in quantity, they make up for in quality. No fish is treated with more care from the time it leaves the water until it is delivered to the retailer's door. Fish are caught one at a time and handled individually.

    And because of the small number of fish caught, combined with their higher quality, they are the most valuable, pound for pound, of the Alaska Salmon species.

    Once caught, they're bled, gilled, and gutted. Ice is carefully packed in the body and head cavities. The fish are then laid on a layer of ice away from contact with other fish. The body cavities drain liquids away from the fish into the vessel's bilge, where it is pumped overboard.

    If the vessel has freezing capability, the fish are blast-frozen, dipped in fresh water to form a protective ice glaze, and placed in the hold. Almost all troll-caught fish go into the fresh, frozen, or smoked market.

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    Gillnetting

    The greatest number of Alaska Salmon are caught through gillnetting. Gillnetting involves laying a net wall in the water in the fishes' path. The fish swim into the mesh and their gills become entangled in the webbing, preventing them from escaping.

    Most gillnetters are small one- to three-man boats. State law restricts gillnetters in Alaska's Bristol Bay from being longer than 32 feet. Elsewhere, most gillnetters are 32 to 42 feet. A gillnet fisherman uses a net from 900 to 1800 feet long, a choice not made by him, but by the State of Alaska for fishery management reasons. Mesh size is also regulated.

    Some gillnetters are equipped to carry fish on ice or in refrigerated holds, but most deliver their catch daily. They usually divide the hold into several bins that are lined with a brailer bag. Then, when the gillnetter comes alongside the tendering vessel, the brailer bags are simply lifted aboard, emptied, and returned to the catcher vessel. This reduces handling of the fish, which significantly improves the quality of the catch.

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    Purse Seining

    Large numbers of salmon are caught with seins in Southeastern, Central, and Western Alaska, and up the tip of the Alaska Peninsula. All species of Alaska Salmon are harvested by this method.

    Purse seiners are generally larger than gillnetters, but by Alaska law can be no longer than 58 feet. This gives them the stability needed to operate in stormy fjords and channels.

    A purse sein is a net that's set in a circle around the school of fish and is then drawn closed (or "pursed") at the bottom. Salmon have a tendency to jump and "fin" on the surface, which signals their location to fishermen. And because Alaska Salmon migrate in tight schools, it is not unusual for an Alaska seiner to "wrap up" 250 to 1500 fish or more with one set.

    Harvesting Alaska Whitefish Varieties

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    Trawl

    A trawl is a large, bag-shaped net that is towed by a fishing vessel. Trawlers are generally large boats ranging from 70 feet to over 200 feet in length. The doors, because of the way they are built and rigged to the trawl, keep the mouth of the trawl open as it moves through the water. The headrope is equipped with floats forming the upper opening. The footrope is rigged with weights forming the lower opening. Trawlers use sophisticated ultrasonic devices both for location of fish underwater and for species identification.

    Pelagic trawls sometimes contact the ocean bottom, but their heavy doors and wires are kept off the bottom to avoid damage to benthic habitat. Fishing with pelagic trawls is a selective method of fishing, because the nets can be operated in ways to minimize the incidental catch of non-target species. Pollock are usually harvested with few other species. Sole are generally captured in bottom trawls in mixtures of the various species which are sorted onboard the fishing vessel. Trawling is allowed only in certain areas and strict limits are enforced upon the amount of non-target species (such as crab or halibut) that may be caught. In fact, it frequently happens that a trawl fishery is closed because it reached the pre-set “bycatch” limit, and does not achieve full harvest of its target species.

    Upon locating a school of the desired species, the vessel trawls through the school and captures the fish. The fish accumulate in the end of the trawl, which is called the “cod end”, regardless of the species of fish being harvested. Electronic sensors tell the harvester exactly where the trawl is in relation to the fish and the ocean floor, while other sensors report how full the trawl becomes. When capture is complete, the trawl is brought to the surface.

    Once the trawl full of fish reaches the surface of the water, one of two things happens. If the vessel has the ability to process the fish onboard, it is called a factory-trawler or a freezer-trawler or catcher-processor. These vessels simply pull the net aboard, empty the net, sort the species, and process the catch. If the vessel is only capable of catching fish, then it must deliver the catch to a processing plant. These processing plants might be in other vessels, called floating processors, or they might be on shore. The catcher-vessel (trawler) usually takes the fish onboard and stores the fish in refrigerated tanks below decks. This keeps the fish in top quality until they are delivered and processed. In either case, the fish are kept well-chilled, and they are processed within a few hours of harvest. Trawls are the only fishing method used to harvest pollock and sole. They are sometimes used to catch cod and black cod but never halibut.

    Longlining

    Longline

    The only legal fishing method for halibut is longline gear. Longline fishing is also often used for harvesting black cod and cod, but never for pollock or sole. Longline fishing vessels are usually independently run by owner-operators. Some longliners are small boats, less than 50 feet in length, but most are somewhat larger.

    Longline gear is composed of groundline, buoy lines, and gangions, which are short pieces of line with hooks on the end. Longlines are set along the seabed, with baited hooks every few yards. Longline hooks are retrieved one at a time. The fishermen can unhook other species of fish and return them alive to the sea without bringing them on board. In this way, longlining is considered a style of fishing with very little bycatch.

    Pot Fishing

    Pot Fishing

    The third type of fishing gear used to catch Alaska whitefish is pot gear. Pots are used only for black cod and cod, never for pollock, halibut, or sole.

    Pots are large steel-framed cages covered in net mesh. The baited pots are placed on the seafloor where they trap the fish. Fish enter the traps through tunnels but cannot escape. Later the pots are retrieved and the fish are sorted on deck. Non-target fishes are returned alive to the sea.

    Jig Fishing

    Jig Fishing

    Jig fishing is a hook and line fishing method that utilizes artificial lures and an electric machine to jerk (jig) the line up and down. Each machine may have up to five lines and each line may have up to 30 hooks attached. The fish are taken off the hooks and handled individually on the boat.

    Along with longlining, jig fishing is the only other legal hook-and-line method for catching cod. Rockfish and ling cod are also harvested using this method. Jig fishing reels in hundreds of thousands of pounds of fish per year; however, this is a small percentage of the total Alaskan catch.

    Harvesting Alaska Shellfish Varieties

    Pot Fishing

    Harvesting Alaska Crab

    The method of harvesting Alaska dungeness, king, and snow crab is dangerous and grueling work. Steel traps or pots are baited with cut fish, then pushed over the side. Buoys mark the location of each pot, and its owner. At the right time, judged by gut instinct and years of experience, the pots are hauled in, quickly emptied into the hold, rebaited, and returned to the ocean floor.

    Harvesting Alaska Scallops

    Harvested in the icy waters off the Gulf of Alaska, Alaska scallops are hand-shucked and frozen within hours, ensuring their just-caught flavor and texture. Packed on board without the use of chemicals or preservatives, Alaska scallop fishermen are able to consistently deliver product which lives up to its reputation for flavor and freshness. And because the Alaska scallop fishery is conservatively managed and tightly regulated, a consistent supply of high-quality seafood is assured, year-round.

    Best Practices: Receiving & Storage

    Receiving

    • Inspect your order of Alaska Seafood immediately upon delivery.

    • Boxes with watermarks may indicate that the product has been allowed to partially thaw during transit.

    • Open at least one carton per shipment and check the core product temperature with an instant-read thermometer.

    • Fresh fish should be delivered at 30-38° F and frozen fish at 0-10° F.

    • If the temperature does not meet shipping specifications, notify both the carrier and supplier immediately.

    • Next, check the net weights of the glazed product. If you are not sure how to do this, please call or write our Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute quality assurance program.

    • Check the quality again after proper thawing. The only thing you should smell is the sea.

    Storage

    You should never allow frozen seafood to thaw until you are ready to use it, as refreezing seafood severely alters its quality.

    • Transfer the Alaska Seafood shipment quickly into frozen storage upon receipt.

    • Store whole, cleaned fresh or freshly thawed fish in a stainless steel pan with good drainage and cover with a towel and pile ice on top of and around the fish.

    • The key to preserving frozen seafood product quality is to maintain constant, very cold temperatures of 0°F or colder. Store fresh fish at 32-35° F. Store frozen fish at -18 to -29° F.

    • Maximum shelf life is obtained by holding frozen seafood at -10°F or colder

    • Stack frozen cartons away from walls and off the floor for better air circulation.

    • Mark the date on each box as it enters the storage area and rotate product on a first-in, first-out basis.

    Thawing

    Thawing has a profound effect on seafood quality.

    • Never allow Alaska Crab to thaw at room temperature or place it in warm water to thaw, as flavor and texture may be lost.

    • Planning your product needs carefully will help assure your customers a pleasurable dining experience.

    • Determine how much seafood you will be serving as the thawing process differs according to the amount needed.

    For small amounts of crab and shatterpack fillets, the slow approach to thawing is always recommended:

    • Remove the desired amount from the case shipment ( immediately returning unused portions to the freezer) and place it in a refrigerator set between 34° and 38° F.

    • To prevent the build-up of melt-water, place the seafood into pans that drain easily, and place the thaw pan into a larger pan to contain any drippings.

    • Don't place thaw pans over other product in the refrigerator.

    • Monitor the temperature inside the refrigerator and plan to use the crab the following day.

    For high-volume feeding occasions, follow this procedure for thawing product:

    • Protect the frozen product in a plastic bag, then immerse in cold spray water - it is important that the water is cold.

    • To maintain the quality of the product, do not allow the seafood to come directly in contact with the water or let the running water "drill" into the plastic bag.

    • Once the seafood is thawed, keep it chilled and covered until ready to use.

    • Never refreeze.

    Training Opportunities

    Helpful and knowledgeable staff is key to building and maintaining loyal customers. The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI) offers a wide range of training materials and tools to help boost you and your staff's knowledge of wild, natural and sustainable Alaska seafood. Check out these great training programs now:

    Alaska Seafood U
    An Alaska seafood interactive online training program. Complete each of the training modules and earn a Certificate of Completion.

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    Wild Style
    An Alaska salmon online training program that offers up to five continuing education hours from the American Culinary Federation.

    For more tools and resources, visit the Foodservice Training & Promotions page on the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute website