Sitka Salmon Shares brings Southeast Alaska fish to Midwest markets


Sitka Salmon Shares vice president-fisherman Marsh Skeele holds up a chinook salmon during a recent tour of the company’s new plant on Smith Street in Sitka.


Sitka Salmon Shares founder-president Nicolaas Mink holds a copy of his book “Salmon: A Global History” during a 2014 visit to Sitka.

What started out as a one-off fundraiser for a Sitka nonprofit has grown into a thriving business with sales approaching $4 million, with 2,500 members and 100 wholesale accounts spread out over six states.

Sitka Salmon Shares is a community-supported fishery (CSF) program, where members buy shares in the harvest similar to the process of a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program. But instead of the members being local to Sitka, where most of the fish is caught, the members of Sitka Salmon Shares live in Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota and Iowa.

“Each member gets a five-pound box of fish delivered to their door nine months of the year,” said Marsh Skeele, who serves as Sitka Salmon Shares vice president/co-founder and one of its 13 fishermen-owners. “A lot of them are former Alaskans or from Seattle, so they know good fish. The fish in the grocery stores there tends to have poor quality.”

SitkaSalmonSharesSignThe company distributes four types of salmon (chinook, coho, sockeye and chum), rockfish, ling cod, halibut, spot prawns, Pacific cod and blackcod, with most of the fish caught out of Sitka or Juneau. Sitka Salmon Shares also sells fish at 23 different farmers markets around the Midwest. Last year, Sitka Salmon Shares bought the former Big Blue Fisheries plant in Sitka, and is renovating it so the company can keep up with the special processing and freezing needs of its growing customer base while also developing new value-added products such as smoked salmon to add to the mix.

Sitka Salmon Shares got its start in 2011, when founder-president Nicolaas “Nic” Mink was in Sitka with a couple of his Knox College students working on a sustainable fishing and food-sourcing project with the Sitka Conservation Society. Mink, who still teaches environmental science part-time at Knox (he had a brief stint at Butler University a couple of years ago), decided to take some fish back with him to Galesburg, Ill., which he personally delivered to customers. Then those customers asked for more fish, and Sitka Salmon Shares was born.

TraysOfSalmonPortions“I think that first load of 750 pounds of fish raised about $10,000,” Mink said. “This year, our sixth, we sold more than 100,000 pounds of fish, just under $4 million.”

Some people laughed at his business plan when Mink decided to sell fish more than 2,000 miles away from its source, with a headquarters in a landlocked Midwest town away from most fish markets. But Mink and his partners found out that even people in the Midwest want high-quality fish from sustainable sources, fish that’s well-treated along the journey so it’s still in good shape when it reaches its customers.

“They want to be fish-eaters, but they don’t know how,” Mink said. “Sitka Salmon Shares gives them steps to know how, and it gave us a lot of opportunities to sell fish. Midwesterners are used to eating farmed salmon, but they heard about wild salmon. They want to eat wild, because it’s more resilient and sustainable than farmed.”

GuysFilletingFishEducation is a big part of the Sitka Salmon Shares story. In addition to providing the monthly boxes of fish, there is a newsletter with information about the fishermen-owners, where and how the fish is caught, and a variety of recipes geared toward wild fish and not farmed. The recipes come from four sources — Sitka Salmon Shares members, our chefs, the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI) Cook It Frozen site and from online sources.

“If you take a piece of coho (aka, silver salmon) and cook it as long as a piece of farmed salmon, the flesh becomes mealy and doesn’t taste good,” Mink said. “There’s a lot of education. With farmed salmon, the flesh is soft and thicker than wild salmon, so people need to cook it twice as long as wild salmon. We know wild salmon doesn’t need a lot of time on the grill, and that’s been one of the biggest hurdles.”

“We provide a lot of information,” Skeele said. “They definitely want to know more when you provide them with quality fish. We teach them about pressure bleeding, flash freezing, accountability and traceability. They want to know as much information as we can tell them about the fish that comes through our plant.”

AriannaShovelsIceIntoToteWithJasonCroftThe owner-fishermen are longliners and trollers, for the most part, with some who gillnet sockeye and use pots to catch the spot prawns. Skeele said all of the fishermen are owners in the company, “so they have some skin in the game.” By having skin in the game, the fishermen are more likely to treat the fish better once it comes onto the boat, so it maintains its high quality.

Right now, Sitka Salmon Shares doesn’t sell a lot of its fish in Sitka, although it does sell fish to a couple of local restaurants such as the Westmark HotelTotem Square Inn and Sitka Hotel. Sitka Salmon Shares doesn’t want to compete locally with the Alaskans Own Seafood CSF program that sells to members in Alaska. But now that Sitka Salmon Shares has its own plant, it does offer local processing of fish to charter fishing operations, personal-use and sport fishermen from Sitka, and to commercial fishermen who sell their own fish to various markets around the country.

“We’d like to sell more locally, and it would be great to have our fish in Sea Mart,” Mink said. “We’re excited about our community processing program, and we’re trying to do more processing for Sitka fishermen.”

CloseUpOfSalmonFilletingIn recent years, Sitka Salmon Shares has received national exposure with articles in Food & Wine, New Food Economy, Entrepreneur and Forbes, plus a variety of regional publications and Sitka exposure with a story on KCAW-Raven Radio. Mink said there is still more Sitka Salmon Shares can do in the Midwest and Alaska.

“With our plant, we have our own ice and our own value-added room,” Mink said. “We have a talented individual, Pat Glabb, rebuilding Big Blue. He built Silver Bay Seafoods plant. Right now we’re focused on the Midwest, and we have a ways to go to develop our markets there. But we have assets on the ground and systems in place and tons of room to grow. We think there are a lot of cool things to do with value-added. For example, we have Chris Eley, a chef-butcher from the Smoking Goose Meatery in Indianapolis, developing some salmon sausages for us.”

Fishermen wanting to learn more about the Sitka Salmon Shares community processing program can call Jason Croft at 966-9999, or stop by the plant on Smith Street (across from Baranof Island Brewing Company). You also can visit the Sitka Salmon Shares website at

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• Former Sitka resident Nic Mink publishes book, ‘Salmon: A Glocal History,’ highlighting salmon in Sitka and the world


Former Sitka resident Nicolaas “Nic” Mink — now the Urban Sustainable Foods Fellow at Butler University, Indianapolis — recently published the book Salmon: A Global History that highlights salmon in Sitka, Alaska, and the world.

The book is published by Reaktion Books, LTD, as part of The Edible Series, which features books about different types of food from around the world. The small hardback book is 127 pages with 49 illustrations (30 in color), recipes, bibliography, and index. It costs $18 in the United States ($9.99 on Kindle).

Nic used to lead the now-defunct Sitka Salmon Tours, which took visitors on a walking tour around Sitka to show them the different stages of salmon growth and processing, during the two-plus years he lived in Sitka and worked with the Sitka Conservation Society. He said many of the scripts he developed for the tours were incorporated into the book, which isn’t much longer than a traditional academic paper. Now that he lives in Indiana, Nic still has connections to Sitka’s salmon through a company he started called Sitka Salmon Shares, which markets sustainably caught salmon, halibut, sablefish (black cod), and other fish from Sitka and Juneau to residents of the Midwest United States.

While exploring the state of salmon throughout the world, Nic said he centered a lot of the book on Sitka’s salmon because of its place in the history of the fish. In addition to looking at the natural history of salmon eating, the book also examines cured, canned, and fresh salmon, plus the future of edible salmon. He writes about the role of salmon with Alaska Native cultures, how Alaska’s salmon industry was impacted when a British boy died from botulism after eating canned salmon from Ketchikan in the 1980s, the differences between wild Alaska salmon and farmed salmon, and more.

The book’s description, from the book jacket:

The story of salmon takes readers on a culinary journey from the coast of Alaska to the rivers of Scotland, tracing salmon’s history from the earliest known records to the present. He tells the story of how the salmon was transformed from an abundant fish found seasonally along coastal regions to a mass-produced canned food  and a highly prized culinary delight.

Rich in omega-3 fatty acids, cheap, and widely available, salmon is often listed as an essential part of any diet. A delicious and versatile fish, it can be used to make sashimi, cold smoked for lox, or shaped into a fishcake as an alternative to hamburgers. But while salmon is enjoyed all over the globe, it also swims at the center of controversy, with commercial fishing, global warming, and loss of freshwater habitats all threatening salmon populations and the ecological and health impacts of intense salmon farming under fire.

• Sitka Conservation Society presents another year of Sitka Salmon Tours

Sitka Salmon Tours, presented by the Sitka Conservation Society, returns this summer for its second year, guiding visitors through the journey salmon take from forest to plate. The two-hour tour begins at 1 p.m. on Mondays through Saturdays outside the Sitka Sound Science Center and progresses through Sitka National Historical Park, Sheldon Jackson Hatchery, and ends at Crescent Harbor. Tickets cost $20 per person.

The tours mainly draw from tourists visiting Sitka, but also found interest last summer from local residents with family in town, as something fun and unique to do for an afternoon. Personalized and private tours are available upon request.

“People really respond to how we bring the salmon in nature together with the science of the hatchery and the economic and cultural roles salmon play here,” Helen Schnoes, Salmon Tours staff says. “It helps them understand the significance of salmon — and the need to protect, restore, and enhance their habitat — in a new way.”

Tour guests this year and last immensely enjoy this unique perspective on salmon and life in Sitka, as demonstrated by these Trip Advisor reviews — “Great tour: got to see the real life Alaska … really informative and fun,” “Beautiful, Informative, and Entertaining,” and “The most delightful, interesting walking tour … a breath of fresh air.”

In addition to the daily walking tour, Sitka Salmon Tours also organizes events throughout the summer tailored to Sitkans, such as occasional tours of the Seafood Producers Cooperative, specialty community tours, and a salmon bake fundraiser.

We will be sending more details as the summer progresses, but here’s a heads up, too, about some future events:

  • July 15, “The Rise and Fall of Canned Salmon,” Talk by Nic Mink, 5-6 p.m. at Kettleson Memorial Library. Free and open to the public.
  • July 19, Community Salmon Bake Fundraiser, $20 per person ($15 for children age 12-younger), 6=8 p.m. at Harrigan Centennial Hall.
  • Aug. 5, “Fishing for Change,” Talk by Elizabeth Cockrell, 5-6 p.m. at Kettleson Memorial Library. Free and open to the public.
  • Aug. 7, Seafood Trivia at the Bayview Pub. Sitka Salmon Tours takes over this weekly trivia night with questions about seafood, salmon, and everything fishy. Teams must be entered by 8:45 p.m., trivia begins 9 p.m.
  • Aug. 9-13, Sitka Seafood Festival walks, including regular Salmon Tour, local seafood tour (includes tastings at some of Sitka’s best restaurants), and SPC processor tour; Events include a processor tour (11 a.m. on Aug. 9, $35 with light meal included, meet at location TBA), at least two Sitka Salmon Tours (one at 1 p.m. on Aug. 10, a second at 9 a.m. on Aug. 11, $20, meet at Sitka Sound Science Center), and a Seafood Walk (11 a.m. on Aug. 12, $45, includes processor tour and tastings at local restaurants)

Contact Helen Schnoes for questions, reservations, or for further information about events planned in Sitka this summer. Helen can be reached at the Sitka Conservation Society office at 747-7509, or by cell at (612) 741-1591 or e-mail at


• KCAW-Raven Radio highlights new walking tour about salmon in Sitka

Recently, KCAW-Raven Radio summer intern Emily Bender produced a story about a new walking tour that teaches tourists and locals about something near and dear to Sitka’s heart — wild salmon.

According to the story, Nicolaas Mink, owner and tour guide for Sitka Salmon Tours, leads behind-the-scenes walking tours of the local salmon fishery from stream to dinner table.

“The tours are really seeking to raise awareness of among healthy forest, healthy ecosystems, healthy community and we’re really doing that through the lens of our salmon fishery here and to a lesser extent our commercial fishery,” says Mink.

“In many ways, it’s a big interpretive project, we’re taking two dozen sites in Sitka, and stringing them together through a walking tour that’s narrated generally by me.”

Mink said the tour is by foot, rather than by bus, because it’s an eco-friendly way to present the subject. It also follows the philosophy of the Sitka Conservation Society, which helps produce the tours. To learn more and watch an audio slideshow, click this link.