Sunday, April 20, 2008

News from Sitka, April 20, 2008

Regarding a question about herring egg harvesting

Maybe with a part of a Kiks.adi story about Aak'wtaatseen (a man who became an Ixht' and lived to be older than 100 years). This happened long ago.

As a young boy Aak'wtaatseen became a salmon and traveled for several years with them until they returned to the stream where they were born. The legend goes something like this:
When the salmon he was with returned to Sitka Sound they came upon a large school of herring.
The two canoes exchanged insulting words with each other. The herring won the altercation when they said "we fed the people before you, we are the first to feed the people."
This refers to the fact that herring are the first to offer themselves to the people in the spring. The Lingit not only eat herring and their eggs all the time, they have always eaten herring and herring eggs. It is part of the annual life cycle for many thousands of years.

Today herring eggs are harvested and processed with ancient techniques and with modern tools. Hemlock branches are cut from the forest and placed in the ocean with an anchor to form a "nest" so that the schools of fish will be attracted and lay their sticky eggs on the needles and branches. The salt water soaks into the eggs, plumps them up and stops the stickiness so when we pull up the branches, after 2-3 days, we hopefully have 1" thick steaks of solid eggs. We also look for natural growths of hair kelp and macrosistis kelp to harvest when they have been coated with thick layers of eggs.

Long ago herring eggs were dried and traded with the interior Natives, along with sea mammal and fish oils which were very hard to come by in those areas. Those trade routes were called grease trails. Today people do still trade herring eggs with each other, but it is more of a delicacy now that Sitka is the last place on the west coast where they have an annual spawn.
Long ago herring eggs were eaten with hooligan and seal oil and today many also use butter and soy to dip the eggy chunks in. It looks like white caviar.

This year has been terrible for the traditional harvesters. We don't have much to share. Roby Littlefield, Sitka

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