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Sitka tours seek to add new dimensions to the story of wild salmon

Posted: July 9, 2011 - 11:06pm
Nicolaas Mink and a tour participant listen to Craig Shoemaker talk while waiting for a troller to be iced up before going to fish.   Provided by Nicolaas Mink
Provided by Nicolaas Mink
Nicolaas Mink and a tour participant listen to Craig Shoemaker talk while waiting for a troller to be iced up before going to fish.

There’s a new Southeast outreach program in Sitka to raise awareness of and advocate for the Tongass National Forest’s salmon. The Sitka Conservation Society has begun offering walking tours to bring a comprehensive understanding of the pathway the fish take from the forest to the dinner table.

Sitka Salmon Tours go through the complete salmon life cycle, from the water to the processors to the plates. The format is to go through about a dozen sites that represent the different stages. Several processors, restaurants, researchers, fishermen and experts have incorporated their parts of it into the tours.

For example, visitors may receive guidance of the Indian River to the Sheldon Jackson Hatchery to the processors at Absolute Fresh Seafoods to the Seafood Processor’s Cooperative.

“It’s a unique view of the salmon fishery and the forest and economy here to demonstrate the connections between everything. We believe healthy resources begin with a healthy ecosystem, and that begins with the Tongass,” said Nicolaas Mink of the Sitka Conservation Society.

Mink, an environmental studies professor at Knox College in Illinois who began working with the Sitka Conservation Society last year, conducts the tours. He spent six months preparing for this venture, coordinating with participants to represent a comprehensive view of the seafood industry, views from the likes of the Sitka Sound Science Center, Alaska Hook and Line, restaurants and fishermen. The visitors learn how the process works and why it works, as well as the links to the businesses and institutions with the forest.

Mink said the men and women on the tour are the experts, and his job is to translate what they do.

“We string together the sites with me as kind of an interpreter of the whole thing,” he said.

He said since the tours go along a living process, they’re not the exact same each time and need to be flexible. He said this adds to their value.

“There’s a lot of places I feel give people an idea of what salmon is like in the streams and maritime history but there’s not one that does it in a way that integrates the story of the whole, and that’s what’s unique and interesting about this program,” said Mink.

Mink said visitors so far have been keen to learn about the life cycle of an Alaskan resource in its entirely. As the program has picked up, he sees it as a way to have an outreach for those in the Southeast with intentions of targeting beyond to the Pacific Northwest.

He said the idea in the first year is to market it to independent tourists and bed and breakfast travelers. He’s working with the Sitka Convention and Visitors Bureau to expand the marketing later to cruise travelers.

For more information go to www.sitkasalmontours.com.

• Contact reporter Jonathan Grass at 523-2276 or jonathan.grass@juneauempire.com.

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