The drive to Seward from Anchorage reminds me of taking Route 1 from Portland to Rockland in Maine. Only the proximity to ocean and mountains (and death), like most things in Alaska, is magnified.
The first stretch of Route 1 out of Anchorage hugs the coast of Turnagain Arm into Portage, where it snakes its way south through the deep mountain passes and Chugach National Forest of the Kenai Peninsula until it opens up to a vast view of the Gulf of Alaska. Seward, a town of about 2,500 year-round residents, boasts a wide and deep ocean port that plays hostess to a summer tsunami of tourism in the form of cruise ships, charter fishing boats, sailing pleasure craft and a commercial fishing fleet of longliners, seiners and gillnetters.
The sparkling April day I spent on the waterfront in town had many of the local business owners bustling about with spring fever, eager to sweep away the dust and gravel left by melting snowbanks and throw open windows and doors to welcome fresh air and sunshine in preparation for a busy summer to come. It was also the height of the spring blackcod and halibut season — a month after the season opener on March 19 and about a month before salmon season opens in May.
We happened upon “the fish broth guy” loading halibut heads into totes in the back of his truck to haul home and convert into a local treasure from the Alaska Broth Co. Partners in life and in business Daiva Gaulyte and David Chessick use her mother’s traditional Lithuanian recipe to make their fishhead broths, much to the delight of soup and broth lovers across the country.
Down the road a ways, we ducked into the Alutiiq Pride shellfish hatchery. Michael Mahmood led us into what might be mistaken for his personal kombucha brewing room. The hatchery’s breeding lab for shellfish feed — flagellate and diatom algae — was lit up with the various stages of algae growth, which Mahmood explained is exponential, in progressive stages of vessel size, each bubbling away with life-giving aeration.
Outside of the algae brewing room were vats of butter clams and 16-day-old king crabs. Mahmood reminded us that, unlike the salmon hatchery up the road near Moose Pass, this hatchery conducts a wide range of research, testing the ability to breed all manner of native shellfish, in addition to providing bivalve seed stock for shellfish mariculture.
We ended our day at the Alaska Sealife Center, communing with puffins perched on sun-warmed rocks, stroking sea stars and spot prawns in touch tanks, and driving the child-size replica fishing boat at the center’s entrance. The center educates its attendees on the beautiful balance in Alaska between its marine wildlife and marine harvesters who feed the world with the bounty of Alaska seafood. Unlike many aquariums, the center introduces its visitors to all things related to coastal life in Alaska, including the fishing industry on which this coastal community thrives.