Order Alaska Select's wild-caught, quality catch from home
Written by Jenna Talbott and Le‘a Gleason
Strange times indeed leave many small businesses shuffling to consider not only how they can stay afloat, but also how they can adjust to serve their local communities, if possible. The COVID-19 pandemic has fallen on the Reno-Tahoe area like an invisible fog, presenting the social paradox of isolation and unity. Personal and economic sacrifices are being made for the greater health of our communities as we try to navigate uncertain times. Social distancing and quarantining make food and shelter our collective priorities as all non-essential businesses are closed until further notice.
Alaska Select Seafood representative Jenna Talbott was born and raised in Reno, and says the company’s sea-to-table business is on track to distribute its flash-frozen, sustainably caught, wild Alaskan seafood to its club members in the Reno and Truckee areas in May.
“Hopefully things will be back to normal by then,” Talbott says. “But either way, we are going to keep on track taking seafood orders and providing a convenient and quality source of omega-3s and protein for households.”
Alaska Select Seafood traditionally distributes bulk orders of premium, sustainably caught seafood to individuals in Reno and Truckee twice a year, in May and again in October/November. Club members (join for free here) generally pick up their orders at designated times and locations in the area.
Sockeye salmon fisherman Captain Nick Lee, owner of Alaska Select Seafood, says that due to the present circumstances, the small company is offering home deliveries to those who are immunocompromised or under quarantine.
“We will encourage those who are able to please come and pick up their orders while still practicing social distancing as necessary,” he says. “We will do our best to responsibly manage the distributions. We are taking this opportunity to maintain services for our customers very seriously.”
Talbott says that, in general, if Alaska Select Seafood is about anything (besides quality, she notes), it would be responsibility. The company uses its income and resources to fund educational projects about the seafood industry so that consumers can make responsible choices, whether it’s with Alaska Select Seafood or in the seafood aisles of their local markets.
The Story of Alaska Select
“I first got involved with Nick Lee on his passion-project side of things,” Talbott says. “We put together a presentation that sort of decoded the intentionally misleading language used in the seafood industry, so that consumers can understand what story they are buying into. Nick is very passionate about empowering people to make responsible choices because he really understands what is at stake with our oceans.”
Lee has fished in Bristol Bay (the world’s largest and most sustainable wild sockeye salmon run) for more than 35 years, and over time he began growing his personal distributions of sockeye salmon from family and friends to create Alaska Select Seafood in 2013. He began networking with other responsibly sourcing fishermen and small fisheries in Alaska to provide a variety of wild-caught options for seafood lovers to order in bulk.
Arial shot of Captain Nick Lee's fishing vessel, the Anasazi.
Its name was written in the muddy delta by crew members.
Photo by Austin Breckinridge
Lee’s sockeye salmon is available for order in 10- or 20-pound boxes of flash-frozen filets or portions. Alaska Select Seafood also offers black cod, Pacific cod, lingcod, king salmon, smoked sockeye salmon, halibut, spot prawns, and bairdi snow crab — some available in five-pound boxes. The Alaska Select Seafood website has detailed information on the background and sourcing of each product.
After getting involved with Alaska Select, Talbott is heading into her third season working in Bristol Bay. As a quality control personnel, she saw firsthand how the fishery has upped its standards to produce the quality products Alaska Select proudly offers. Lee and Talbott also are working on a book that delves into how these practices revolutionized and saved the Bristol Bay industry, which now provides more than half the world’s sockeye salmon.
Lee hangs his captain hat all but six weeks of the year, yet his whole life is dedicated to sharing his insights into the seafood industry.
Nick Lee, owner of Alaska Select Seafood, barbecues black cod. Photo courtesy of Alaska Select Seafood
“I began fishing in Alaska 37 years ago. Over that time, I’ve worn many hats and become all too familiar with the inner workings of the fishing industry and its battles over sustainability, safety, and quality. I’ve harvested sockeye, silvers, kings, cohos, halibut, black cod, herring, Pacific cod, and even sea monkeys, in a variety of regions with different gear types,” he says, referring to the equipment used for fishing.
“At age 18, I worked my way up from the ‘slime line’ in a processing plant to the first line of quality control,” Lee continues. “My first job out of college was inspecting for a seafood trader. I served as the logistics coordinator for a shipping company, where I oversaw union labor. I was a founding board member for the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development, which helped delegate funds for scientific research, quality programs, and management for the largest sockeye salmon run in the world. I’ve now worn a captain’s hat for 25 years and, most recently, started Alaska Select. The common thread through all my endeavors in the industry has been the pursuit of quality. My goal now is to share some of my knowledge with seafood lovers — to give them the tools to pursue sustainable quality for themselves and to take the story of seafood for Americans back.”
Talbott says Alaska Select Seafood’s mission is two-fold.
“We aim to provide responsibly sourced, quality products from select fisheries that fund projects through which Nick can share his insight and story,” she says.
The following video showcases Lee’s passion for his work.
At the forefront of Alaska Select Seafood’s projects is a documentary on the importance of wild salmon as it relates to the Pebble Mine project.
Lee has been hard at work year round with a team gathering footage and interviews to spread awareness about a myriad of issues including the imposing threat of the Pebble Mine, which will put the world’s largest, most sustainable sockeye salmon run at risk of devastation.
Reno geologist Ann Carpenter disagrees with the anti-Pebble Mine movement, but she has become a big supporter of Alaska Select Seafood because of the quality of the fish.
Carpenter initially tried some of Alaska Select Seafood’s offerings at a dinner party hosted by Talbott and placed an order the next day.
“I got smoked salmon and prawns and it was lovely,” Carpenter says. “I (liked) both the freshness and the sustainability aspect. I’m concerned about overfishing the ocean. I’m landlocked here in Nevada so I really haven’t had a lot of great luck with fresh fish. I noticed the flavor differences. You get farmed salmon and it’s got no character.”
Carpenter also was impressed by Alaska Select’s treatment of its products.
“The company freezes them and puts together a product that’s frozen once, not 700 times by the time it makes it to Reno,” she says. “I think that makes a difference — you freeze and thaw anything enough and you affect the quality of the food or even the flavor of it.”
Reno locals gather at a private residence for a dinner presentation on the seafood industry hosted by Alaska Select.
Photo courtesy of Alaska Select Seafood
After ordering once last year, Carpenter made a bigger order this fall, which included salmon, smoked salmon, black cod, and prawns. She is especially fond of the black cod.
“Once I started eating the cod, everything was going to come up second to it. The cod just speaks for itself. I either pan fry it or bake it and use very little butter or oil because the flavor is so incredible,” she says.
The Alaska Select Seafood website provides an array of recipes to guide and inspire home cooking — something it seems we are all becoming more accustomed to lately.
To join a Reno or Truckee club, go to Alaskaselectseafood.com and sign up for free. Club members will be notified when orders open in April and distribution hits in May.
“Hot tip: The black cod goes fast!” Talbott says.