The term "sustainable Alaska seafood" is misleading. It's not just about fish, it's about Alaskans.
I hated fishing when I was a kid. My brother and sister were never too keen on it either, and my mom usually had a book in hand instead of a rod and reel. Despite our lack of interest in it, we all had fishing licenses, and my dad made sure our limits were met. Back then, I saw it as just another monotonous activity my dad enjoyed. I didn't make the connection between the fish being pulled from the water in the summer to the salmon cakes smothered in ketchup on my dinner plate in the winter.
Living off the land in the last frontier is a fact of life for Alaskans. Despite numerous natural resources in abundance, commercial fishing still reigns king as the largest private-sector employer in the state. From the fishermen and processors who bring the fish out of the water, to the marketing teams moving that fish around the globe, all the way on down to that weird-looking kid cooking fish and chips at your favorite dive bar, Alaskans rely on healthy fisheries to provide, directly or indirectly.
For some, the preservation of our fisheries is a matter of life or death. Subsistence fishing has been vital to Alaska Native families for centuries; this lifestyle ensures families have enough to eat, and it's an essential element in carrying on the traditions of one's culture. Last summer, I was able to meet Jacinda Mack, a First Nations member from British Columbia, and hear her story about the damage done to the lakes and streams after the Mount Polley mining disaster. She ended her story by telling us that, when asked by her grandchildren what she did when she saw their future being threatened, she wants to be able to tell them, "everything I could."
"Everything I could," for me, started as a fun dinner with some chef friends from the Lower 48 and changed into a sense of duty. It meant working with Salmon Beyond Borders and enlisting the help from chefs all over the U.S. and Canada. Together, we aimed to raise awareness for fisheries in Southeast Alaska that are threatened by large-scale mines upstream in British Columbia.
We amplified our efforts into the inaugural Southeast Feast, a dinner for 400. Beyond it being a great social event for the town, the idea for Southeast Feast was simple: the chefs would come to Juneau and make a connection with the community; gain a new respect for Alaska and its seafood; and, when they returned home, they would tell everyone of the pristine beauty, and how critical it is we protect it.
Whether your were born and raised here, or a transplant from elsewhere, Alaska becomes who you are. More than a place to call home, it's a sense of identity. And with fisheries being the lifeblood of Alaska, sustainable seafood becomes a way of saying sustainable livelihood.
When such a way of living is threatened, you would do everything you could to protect it.
Beau Schooler is co-owner of The Rookery Cafe, The Taqueria, In Bocca al Lupo, Panhandle Provisions in Juneau. Salmon Beyond Borders is a campaign that collaborates with tribes and First Nations across the Alaska/British Columbia border to defend and sustain Alaska's transboundary rivers, jobs and way of life.