Fish cut for drying
Seg’at iniyut initamni.
Split fish are hanging on my drying rack
An essential step in preserving Kodiak’s wealth of salmon for winter use is to prepare it properly.
To prevent bacterial growth and rotting, salmon flesh can be frozen, salted or desiccated. Alutiiq people use each of these techniques, although traditional methods of air drying and smoking remain very popular. First, however, families must butcher their catch to create seg’aq – fish prepared for drying.
An Elder recalls that splitting fresh fish is more difficult that splitting aged fish, so men filled their skiffs with salmon and let them sit overnight. Women then worked to clean the catch, splitting over 200 fish a day at the height of the salmon season.
In the late 19th century, records indicate that Karluk’s 300 villagers cleaned about 100,000 fish a year!
There are many ways to butcher fish for seg’aq. The goal is to expose the meat to aid drying. Typically, people remove the head, spine, and ribs, creating two fillets attached at the tail. Some people also score the flesh. Deep, angled cuts into the meat, perpendicular to the length of the fish, allow moisture to escape.
People hang their seg’at on wooden racks, suspending the fillets by the tail. Experienced fish processers report that it is important to split the fish carefully, so that both fillets are the same weight.
If one fillet is heavier than the other, the fish will slip off the drying rack. Drying takes about three weeks. On dry days, the fish flesh faces outward, but on wet days, people reverse the fillets, facing the skin outwards to protect the meat.