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With all the buzz about fresh, sustainable, wild seafood from Alaska, many may be asking exactly what harvesting methods are being used by Alaska's fisheries. As with much of what appears on our plates, there is a disconnect between the organism in its actual natural environment and what is found in the supermarket. Whether you are a seafood fan or your interest has been sparked by something seen on television, the following is an overview of the various methods used when harvesting Alaska Seafood.
One of the most popular and diverse varieties of Alaska seafood are Shellfish. The different kinds of Alaska Shellfish include King Crab, Dungeness Crab, Snow Crab, Scallops, Oyster, Clams, Mussels, Shrimp, and less common varieties like Geoducks, Sea Urchins and Sea Cucumbers. Crabbing is done with steel traps or bots which use pieces of fish for bait. Harvesting Alaska Seafood can be dangerous and tedious, as the traps or pots must be brought up onto the crabbing boat, emptied, and returned to the water many times. Some varieties of shellfish must be processed on the spot, like Scallops, which are shucked and frozen right away to preserve freshness. When harvesting shrimp the main techniques are bottom trawls, beam trawls, and pots. Bottom trawls are basically large nets which are dragged along the sea floor, while beam trawls are held open by a framework that allows them to be dragged at various depths while remaining open. Pots utilize a system of nets and metal "caging" to allow shrimp in, but not out. A little more hands-on, Geoducks, Sea Cucumbers and Sea Urchins are harvested by actual divers using scuba gear, while clams are dug by hand with a shovel in shallow Bay and Inlet regions and along sandy beaches.
Another widely popular variety of Alaska Seafood is Alaska Salmon. The three main harvesting techniques are trolling, gillnetting, and purse seining. Trolling is when a Troller, the actual fishing vessel, drags baited hooks behind it. Caught Salmon are gilled and gutted, then packed in ice aboard the vessel. Gillnetting is the technique for harvesting Alaska Seafood which catches the greatest quantity of Salmon, and is accomplished by dragging a net behind a boat, into which the fish become entangled. In purse seining a circular net is employed, which can be drawn shut at the bottom. Since Salmon can be seen traveling in schools from the surface, the fishermen can draw the net shut at just the right moment to "wrap up" a large number of fish all at once.