Lee has harvested sockeye, silvers, kings, cohos, halibut, black cod, herring, pacific cod, and even sea monkeys, in a variety of regions with different gear types. At age 18, he worked his way up from the “slime line” in a processing plant to the first line of the quality control department. His first job out of college was inspecting for a seafood trader. Lee served as the logistics coordinator for a shipping company where he oversaw union labor.
He 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. He’s now worn a captain’s hat for 23 years and most recently, started Alaska Select in 2013. The common thread through all his endeavors in the industry has been the pursuit of quality. His goal now is to give people who believe in the health benefits of seafood and a good relationship with sea life, the tools to pursue sustainable, nutritious, quality seafood for on their own.
SOURCE aims to educate consumers through story. Lee doesn’t consider himself an activist, and claims he doesn’t aim to be an alarmist. He has set out to share his experience so consumers can navigate the reality of the seafood industry with a basic understanding of its complex and often sideways inner workings. Lee is building momentum with SOURCE– researching, gathering information, and presenting a colorful look at some of the leading fisheries in the world. A teaser film can be found on the Alaska Select website at www.alaskaselectseafood.com. Alaska Select also sponsors SOURCE seafood dinners and presentations, one of which Lee recently held at 98 Center on Sept. 23.
While Lee does his part as a responsible sockeye salmon fisherman, he says there is only so much a single fisherman, a processor, or even a fishery can do to get a healthy catch on hir or her plate. Once the fish leaves the boat, it is potentially subject to further mishandling and can get mixed up in a new sea of mislabeling–from outright false identification (a study conducted by Oceana in 2013 revealed that one in three fish in America is mislabeled) to convoluted terms developed by an industry trying to hide its skeletons.
Terms like “fresh,” “refresh,” “previously frozen,” “hand-crafted,” “healthy” and “sustainable” all have suggestive meanings, or no real meaning at all.
Lee always starts by addressing the ever-sought-after “fresh.” He says that while “fresh” may be interpreted to indicate quality, in the seafood industry it just means that the product hasn’t been frozen. It could be 15 days out of the water and still be considered “fresh.” Lee says it’s a common misconception that sushi-grade fish is “fresh,” when in fact that quality of fish is usually flash frozen, as with Alaska Select Seafood.
“Refresh’ is an attempt to appeal to the consumer who values “fresh.” It simply means that the product was frozen and has been thawed out for display.
According to Lee, the term “previously frozen” has even more consequential hidden meanings. He says this indicates that the product has been frozen, thawed out and injected with water-retaining compounds, then refrozen. Packages that read “Product of China,” have most likely been twice frozen as well, having made a journey across the ocean and back.
The list goes on and on. Lee says this confusion is not as harmless as it seems. The underlying consequences of consumer disconnect includes systematic fraud, the waste of valuable resources, endorsing poor working conditions and even human slavery, antibiotic abuse, and eco-destruction. What’s at risk, he says, is a variety of things from human health to that of natural resources for generations to come.
Lee saw his own industry through what he calls “the dark days”–a period when poor practices contributed to the near crash of the Bristol Bay wild salmon fishery. For many decades, Bristol Bay was known as the “wild west” of commercial fishing. While in many ways it remains as “wild” as ever, newly revolutionized practices have saved the frontier from self-annihilation. He was a propelling force in a network of independent fishermen who took on the task of holding its own industry accountable for higher standards in order to save it. Lee says it’s not too late to lead by example.
Lee is a part of the sea-to-table movement that aims to connect people across the country with their source. Through Alaska Select Seafood, Lee distributes Sockeye Salmon, King Salmon, Black Cod, Pacific Cod, Halibut, Bairdi crab, smoked Sockeye, and Spot Prawns, two times a year, in various “club” locations across the states. For more information, or to place an order by October 22 for pick up at the South Town Gym in Moab on Nov. 1, visit www.alaskaselectseafood.com.