Care of the Catch

When it comes to catching fish we're all about equal. Modern electronics has generally equalized all but the ones who will never have a predators instinct. If you are in the right place at the right time, you'll catch fish. But then, the real work begins, as it's what we do with the fish after it's boated that draws a distinct line in the sand. Knowledge of the "product", your catch, and understanding what happens to the "product" after it is killed truly separates our local charter fleet.

As soon as any animal dies, the muscle tissue, in this case the flesh you are going to eat in a week, a month etc. begins to deteriorate.

Step one: bleed every fish you kill as soon as it hits the deck. Blood carries the wastes of metabolism out of the muscle and if it is left, so are the waste products. Basic biology right?

Step two: Gut your fish as quickly as possible. This is especially true of salmon. Their very active digestive juices will permeate the stomach lining very rapidly. Depending on water temperature, how full they are and especially ambient air temperature this can range from a few hours to a few minutes.

Step three: Get the product cold. On the water this takes ice, lots of it and here is where the bug meets the windshield, and the rubber meets the road. Slush ice and saltwater are extremely cold. Not cold enough to freeze flesh but it stops most metabolic actions. When we depart town we are generally carrying close to 3000 pounds of ice. Some trips slightly more. Even in the clouds and rain quality goes up as product temperatures go down. If your guide is tossing your fish in a dry box, uncovered to the sun, do something. At the very least make sure a saltwater wash down hose is running over the fish that are bled and gutted. Our summer seawater temperatures are generally around 50ºF in the summer, warmer up in the bays near the stream terminal areas. Don't just keep fishing the remainder of the day before insuring the care of your salmon. If you are fishing offshore and are moving from area to area, make sure the catch is cared for. Fish is a precious protein and quickly spoils. You are paying a lot for your charter and the fish to get it home. If the crew won't take the steps to get it cleaned, iced or into the freezer step up and push the envelope to get it done. That's what you're paying for. If you're not getting that service, it's time to go shopping.

Halibut is the exception to these statements regarding the freezer, not ice... Not because it shouldn't be done but because of the laws. Unless they are small fish with a fletch (1 quarter of a side) that are easily frozen whole, (reasonably sized to consume in one preparation), freezing of a fletch is impractical. You can't legally reduce the halibut filet to less than these four pieces, with the skin on until that fish is permanently landed. This is a state regulation enacted so as to conform with the Federal regulations, a federally managed species.

I know, there are charters that are cutting their halibut, some are even advertising it, that's fine, they not only put themselves at risk of a citation but also their patrons. Eventually, the National Marine Fisheries Enforcement will catch up. Here is how we handle halibut onboard Ten Bears. Our fish handling space takes up a sizable section of the working deck. One tank of slush ice, one tank for bleeding and washing/ de-sliming fish
One large tank of ice which has more than enough thermal mass to chill our bagged halibut filets and enough extra ice to refresh the slush ice tank when needed. Our freezer holds in the neighborhood of 300 lbs, practically we can hard freeze about 80#s/day. The rest is carried over in ice. Vacuum Packing the iced fish twice a day. Putting a load of warm/fresh in the freezer slows the whole freezing process down. Since all your salmon, lingcod and rockfish are vacuum packed and frozen aboard, only your halibut filets are delivered shoreside for packaging and freezing. There are three processing outfits in Kodiak, they all provide the same service. We will deliver to any of them it is your choice. I also recommend you speak with each prior to your departure and determine which best meets your processing needs.
freezerfullMore about fish cleaning: It has come to light that many of our competitors are telling their customers, “Your fish must go up the dock whole.” Really!” Click for the regulation pertaining to halibut. The rest of your fish, You can clean, cut, package, can, salt, consume anyway you see fit. The limiting factor for the rest of the fish you can catch in Alaska is and always has been your daily limit or your possession limit. If you are being told anything else, fed a line of pure LAZY. Funny comparison here, the commercial processors along with top line fisherman have all been driven by the consumer to better care for their catch from the time it leaves the water to the time it gets to the store. Part of the reason we all fish is the enjoyment of the fish we catch on our tables. The quality of that food starts the instant it leaves the water.