Hunting the Lobster Roll, Dipnetting for Salmon


Lee Coursey/flickr

Frank Bruni's muffin memories, hot on the heels of my (much less succulent) thoughts, also included this succulent, longing desire for a lobster roll:

Those of us who love great lobster and have tried at least a few dozen lobster rolls in our lives have eaten some sublime ones, with tender HUNKS of flavorful lobster meat that weren't diluted with too much dressing, too many sidekicks. We got lobster, glorious lobster, without work, in big mouthfuls. And the memory of that keeps us going back for more.

It's an eternal quest in New England. Just the other night, we were at another stop with out-of-town visitors, who of course wanted one.

We were in a suitable place: Legal Sea Foods, one of two default choices for out-of-town fish-desirers (the other is Jasper White's Summer Shack), and of course we ordered a lobster roll. Two surprises: the bun from the New York bakery Tom Cat, the first I've seen of its good goods in Boston (they're staples in New York restaurants); and the abundance of the HUNKS of claw and tail meat Frank so desires. Also not too much dressing—very light mayonnaise and celery. What it lacked, as lobster outside of real seafood shacks does, is the saline tang and freshness you can get only along the coast.

We also had wild Alaskan sockeye salmon (I had my favorite New England summer fish, bluefish, which I find on local menus much too seldom), which put me in mind of a recent Boston Globe piece on a method of sockeye fishing I didn't see on my June Alaskan excursion: dipnetting, an activity that looks, according to the picture, exactly the way it sounds.

The trick to successful dipnetting?

"There is really no skill involved,'' said Kevin Feller, a 50-year-old diesel mechanic who was dipnetting for a few days before returning to his job in the North Slope oil fields. "Stand there with your net and they swim right in.

It's not just a pleasure—it's a right.

For a few precious weeks in midsummer, residents obtain free permits to dip homemade nets into the water and catch fish that will fill their freezers and pantries for months to come.

Each head of household is entitled to 25 fish, with each additional member allowed 10 each. That adds up to hundreds of dollars worth of some of the best wild salmon on the planet.

The freezer-filling for ordinary, non-professional Alaskans was something we observed to our surprise in Sand Point, where king salmon—usually the highest-priced—was considered bycatch to sockeye, the commercially important harvest and the one processing plants are geared up for.

This right might be part of the legacy of Senator Ted Stevens. The second paragraph of his obituary in the Juneau Empire:

"Ted Stevens is the reason so many fishermen's children can afford to wear diapers and shoes and their kids can go to college," Southeast Alaska Seiners Association executive director Robert Thorstenson Jr. said.

Whoever was responsible, dipnetting seems an ancient community right I'm glad still exists there—and that the conservation policies Stevens was involved in continue to let us enjoy wild salmon here.