Behind the Food: Aleutia
Full Circle works with the best farmers, ranchers and artisan producers in the industry to source only top-quality organic produce and other all-natural foods for our members. This week, we’re taking a deeper look at an Alaska-based fishing cooperative.
In the early 2000’s, salmon prices around the world fell dramatically and Alaskan fishing families set out to find a way to save their livelihoods. These families faced significant challenges: salmon is often considered a commodity, consumers historically haven’t demanded flavor and quality standards, the Aleutian region is unknown to most people (even those who visit Alaska) and there is no road access and spotty air traffic which makes distribution extremely difficult.
To combat these challenges, local fishing families reached out directly to seafood lovers across the United States. They determined that they could support their local communities and stabilize incomes, while sharing their story and the salmon that has defined their way of life. They deemed the fishery “Aleutia” to honor their home and their heritage.
Aleutia is a community-based, non-profit seafood brand founded in 2001 by fishing families living around Alaska’s remote Eastern Aleutian Islands and Western Peninsula. These are the families that have been fishing for generations and know the secrets to handling salmon for a better, richer taste and fresh, ocean-caught flavor. Locals know that their time-tested and methodical practices bring unparalleled quality.
This is not the high speed, high-volume fishing often seen at commercial fisheries–quit the opposite. At Aleutia, the fishing boats are still small, family operations and the harvest is slow and careful–often due to the high winds and rolling waters of the icy North Pacific Ocean and Bering Sea.
Aleutia is overseen by a seven-member elected board of directors, each of whom is a fisherman (or woman) or from a fishing family. The company is a multi-generational fishery, with family fishing roots reaching back to the last Ice Age, according to archaeological evidence. In fact, most of the fishing boats have two or more generations of family onboard for the annual salmon run.
The most important stakeholders are the harvesters. Aleutia has between twenty and forty different harvesters each year. The fleet is strictly small boats—about 90% of the fleet is setnet boats; seine boats provide the other 10%—and every Aleutia member upholds the most meticulous handling procedures.
Since its inception, Aleutia has worked hard to pay a fair price to family fishermen while continuing to tell the story of their traditional fishing way-of-life.
The Last Frontier
The Eastern Aleutian Islands, which stretch across thousands of miles of coastline, are rugged and remote, with active volcanoes, untouched wilderness and weather so dramatic it’s known as the “birthplace of the winds.” Sandwiched between the North Pacific Ocean and Bering Sea, many of the families living there depend entirely on seafood for their livelihoods.
Known for its ruby red appearance and clean, ocean-fresh flavor, Aleutia sockeye is an Alaska salmon harvested in one of the world’s most remote places. Since the second Ice Age, fishing has been the center of life in the region, but it wasn’t until recently that this distinctive sockeye run was actually given a name.
The sockeye salmon harvested by Aleutia are quite different. The strong ocean currents and the rich minerals swept along the ocean floor provide an extremely rich environment for salmon to feed. Aleutia sockeye are big, beautiful ocean-run salmon, harvested before they begin to break down in fresh water rivers and streams. It is distinctively clean tasting and firm with a high oil content and no silty flavor.
To insure the flavor and appearance of the harvest stays true to its namesake, Aleutia developed stringent catch and handling protocols, requiring every harvester who delivers sockeye under the Aleutia name to formally join and pledge to maintain those standards. Every Aleutia salmon is hand-picked on the water, partly dressed and immediately put into an icy slush on-deck and a third-party inspector has been enlisted to check every delivery at the dock, carefully weighing and inspecting each fish.
Aleutia typically sells its annual sockeye harvest quickly—and there is often a waiting list before the season even begins.
Aleutia and Full Circle
Aleutia’s focus on sustainable fishing practices, its commitment to supporting local families and communities and the exceptional quallty of its products make it a perfect Full Circle partner.
To learn more about Aleutia and explore delicious seafood recipes, visit Aleutia.org.