The Sitka Seafood Festival is returning to the summer scene after last year’s absence. The festival has been an opportunity for the Sitka community to celebrate their fishing culture and heritage, and to share science, stories, and information. It also exists as a beacon to all sustainable fishing communities.
The Festival began in 2009 as a family run operation that had help from dedicated volunteers. In 2012 it became its own nonprofit organization.
“They just had some personal stuff going on and life was too crazy for them to do it last year,” Sitka Seafood Festival Coordinator Emma Edson said about the family who ran the Festival.
Now, the Festival is fully run by two non-profits in partnership: the Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust (ASFT) and the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association (ALFA) will host the Festival this year.
“Central to the mission of the Sitka Seafood Festival (SSF), as well as the mission of Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust, is the belief that Alaska needs a vibrant and sustainable fishing industry supporting economically empowered and self-sufficient Alaska communities,” said Willow Moore, ASFT’s executive director in a press release. “Also, no one knows good seafood (and where to find it) like Alaskans. The Sitka Seafood Festival celebrates the fishing culture and heritage that local economies (and plates and palates) depend on, and the unique ecosystems of Southeast Alaska that sustain our local fish and families as they grow.”
A new development to this year’s Festival will be that all proceeds will go towards funding the Young Fishermen’s Initiative and in turn, will put a little more meaning behind the event.
“Thirty years ago, a young person who wanted to fish commercially needed a boat, some gear, and a sense of adventure to get started in the business,” Moore said in a press release. “Today, young fishermen face staggering entry level costs, high operating costs, and a level of risk that is equivalent to buying a starter hotel, instead of a starter house, as a first step in home-ownership. The goal of the Young Fishermen’s Initiative is to help young Alaskan fishermen get on the water.”
However, the Festival is reaching for more than just to give a break to the next generation of fisherman, there is also a plan to develop programs and create policies that will help sustain ocean resources. Edson was born and raised in Sitka by what she calls “a fishing family” and mentioned how she basically grew up on a fishing boat. She foresees her two-year-old son growing up similarly and is one of the many members of the community who are taking action to assure that the resources will still be around for years to come.
“It’s really important to me,” Edson said.
The Sitka Seafood Festival will be kicking off on Wild Salmon Day, August 10 with a little help from Artchange, Inc. with the event they are hosting called, “Wet Feet: Stories On, In, Under, and Of the Sea”; this is part of their already existing “Sitka Tells Tales” series that is similar to Juneau’s “Mudrooms” events. Artchange, Inc. is a non-profit that uses art and media to make community stronger. It has been up and running since 2009 and is based out of Sitka.
“We do (Sitka Tells Tales) about four times a year,” Ellen Frankenstein the director of Artchange, Inc. said. “These story telling events are getting popular. We have fun, weird topics.” This specific Sitka Tells Tales will be located at the Beak Restaurant and will go from 7-8:30 p.m. that Thursday. The ocean will be the theme with some of the stories being told by a marine biologist, a chef, and fishermen.
“Something I love is having one of our tellers be from out of town so we have that voice,” Frankenstein said.
Artchange, Inc. has many other influences in the Sitka community. Artchange hosted a meeting in town hall on Friday, July 7 addressing the Senate Health Care Bill. They called it “Health Care Town Hall” and many members of the community, including health care providers from the Sitka Community Hospital and the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, local elders, non-profit directors, teachers, fishermen, and small business owners had their voices heard.
Currently Artchange is aiding in the creation of a documentary film called “Uprivers” which speaks on transboundary mines.
“I just think it’s always great to collaborate,” Frankenstein said. “It always adds new angels. And the Sitka Seafood Festival is a great way to celebrate how our lives are so connected to the ocean here.”
More of the Festival events include: A seafood trivia night at the Mean Queen on Friday, Aug. 11 from 7-8 p.m. These fish-smart and ocean-educated teams may not exceed six people.
The main day of the Festival will fall on Saturday, Aug. 12 from 10 a.m.-8 p.m. and will be set up at the Crescent Harbor shelter. There will be games for the kids, booths, and local food trucks with different food vendors who are coming together to cook locally caught, sustainable seafood. Also on Aug. 12 at the Sheldon Jackson Museum from 2-3 p.m. there will be a lecture with artist in residence Erin Katherine Gingrich who is an Inupiaq mask carver.
On Aug. 17 there is a Seafood Film Festival from 5-7 p.m.
On Aug. 18 Dr. James Carlton, Professor of Marine Sciences Emeritus at Williams College will take the lead on addressing the following topic, “Coming to America: invasive species, ocean rafting, and Japanese Tsunami Marine Debris.” This event will meet at the Sitka Sound Science Center at 7 p.m.
There will be a “walk about the docks: a marine biology tour” on Saturday, Aug. 19 from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. with two tours available but space limited. Sign up at https://www.sitkaseafoodfestival.com/events/2017/8/19/dock-tours. An Ocean Treasures Family Day will be held on Saturday, Aug. 19 at the Japonski Island boat house by the Sitka Maritime Heritage Society from 12-4 p.m. This is a free event.
Aug. 22 marks the beginning of a weeklong class on fish skin sewing that will be taught by Sheldon Jackson Museum artist-in-residence Joel Isaak. To register call 747-8981. For more information about any of these events, visit their website at sitkeseafoodfestival.com.
“Southeast Alaska is an amazing place, and the Sitka Seafood Festival is going to be a great opportunity to bring our community together to celebrate it,” Edson said. “There are a lot of great minds coming together to make it happen. It’ll be a lot of fun, and it’s all for a good cause.”
Mackenzie Fisher is a freelance writer living in Juneau.