Sherry Tuttle of Sitka could be Alaska’s answer to the Chilean salmon farmers who are running Alaska’s traditional salmon fishing industry onto the rocks.Tuttle and her partner, Lori Whitmill, operate the Rose, a 55-foot motor sailer built for tuna fishing that the two operate out of Sitka.Their company, Rose Fisheries, is carving a niche in the higher end of the seafood business, upscale restaurants and food stores on the West Coast and more recently in New York.Tuttle is doing something important for the future of Alaska’s fisheries: She’s demonstrating that quality-handled salmon that is frozen properly on the boat at sea, with the right equipment, can beat fresh salmon, farmed or wild, hands down.Tuttle is quick to point out that she isn’t the only Southeast hand-troller freezing at sea and direct marketing, although the total number is small. These pioneers are swimming against a current of public opinion that fresh is always better than frozen, a belief that gives salmon farmers their big edge over Alaska fish.In reality, a lot of fresh fish sold on the market is up to nine days old, Tuttle says. On the other hand, most fish isn’t frozen properly, which gives it a bad reputation.Tuttle is winning converts. New York Times food writer and chef Florence Fabricant gave Tuttle’s salmon a thumbs up in an April 2001 food column. "There’s no question that Rose Fisheries’ coho salmon has a big flavor," Fabricant wrote. "I cooked it alongside fresh king salmon steaks and preferred the flash-frozen coho."Anchorage chef Jack Amon, a partner in Marx Brothers Cafe, said he preferred fresh salmon for years until he tried Tuttle’s flash-frozen product. Now he’s a convert. The Hotel Captain Cook in Anchorage also buys her frozen salmon.Tuttle has been fishing in Southeast Alaska since the 1960s, when she started coming north for summers. "I’ve always been an outdoor person, and this was far better for a student than spending a summer working in restaurants," she said.After stints teaching and coaching at Mendocino College and Sonoma State University in California, she moved to Alaska, living in Juneau but fishing out of Sitka. She moved to Sitka after the Juneau-Douglas bridge got to be too much of a nuisance for her boat, the June Rose, with which Tuttle earned a living trolling for salmon and longlining for halibut.She tuned in on salmon quality under the tutelage of Harold Thompson of Sitka Sound Seafoods, who was developing salmon quality standards. "I learned a lot from Harold. It was a real challenge to get a score of 100 when I was offloading," Tuttle said.At the time, people were experimenting with frozen-at-sea, a concept where fish harvesters freeze their catch right on the boat to preserve quality. Tuttle became interested. She sold her Juneau house and purchased a larger vessel, the current Rose, which was large enough to live aboard.The key to her operation, she said, is the individual handling of the troll-caught fish. Coho or king salmon caught on lines are stunned before being taken from the water, then immediately gill-bled, dressed and pressure-bled with seawater to ensure no blood remains in the tissues.The fish are double-coated with a salt water glaze and then flash-frozen to minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit.Very rapid freezing to such low temperatures suspends metabolic activity, preserving the quality of the fish. The quality remains weeks or even months later. She has now invested in a larger freezer unit that can get her fish down to 100 degrees below zero.That’s cold enough that the product can withstand any erratic freezer temperatures during transit to the customer, she said.But quality has to be watched all along the line, even in the food stores, she said. Tuttle gives high marks to Samson’s Tug and Barge of Sitka and Alaska Airlines for quality handling of her frozen shipments.But she has seen sloppy handling further down the chain. "We put a lot of effort into quality handling but when someone behind the counter in the store is sloppy it can hurt our reputation," she said.Tuttle took over her own marketing after salmon prices plunged, along with prices offered in the upper end of the market. She worked through friends in California and now markets mainly to organic and natural food stores like New Season’s Markets in Portland, Ore., Newleaf’s in Santa Cruz, Calif., and Draegers’ Market in San Francisco.In New York City her salmon were sold last year at Fairmont-on-Broadway. She also sells directly to upscale restaurants, like Harry’s Savoy Grill in Washington, D.C.While most of her sales have been direct, by phone and word of mouth, Tuttle is now setting up a mail-order operation and a Web site for Internet sales."This has not been a slam dunk for Sherry," said Barbara Belknapp, executive director of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute."Sherry has gone the extra mile in taking care of her fish and marketing them," Belknapp said. "She has traveled and talked people into trying it, getting people to taste it. She tells people ’I caught this fish, I handled it, and I stake my name and reputation on it."Are there lessons in what Tuttle is doing for others in Alaska’s fishing industry? Is she the solution to the challenge of salmon farmers?Yes and no. Part of Tuttle’s advantage is that she is a troller, catching salmon individually on hooks and lines rather than in a mass of fish by net, which is how seine fishermen work.Tuttle works at a slow, measured pace. Her goal is 100 fish a day, and if she is catching too many too fast, she slows down so the processing can catch up."When you troll you can handle the fish individually," she said. "If the fish don’t get bruised there is no scale loss, and they are beautiful. I can guarantee my fish to the customer."Harvesters in most of Alaska’s salmon fisheries can’t do that. "Combat fishing" is what Tuttle calls the kind of large-scale harvesting that takes place in places like Bristol Bay. "What happens to the product is just incredible," she said.Still, Tuttle’s adaptation of new technology, attention to quality and detail, and willingness to be innovative are concepts that can be copied.Overall, Tuttle thinks the fishing industry needs a new mindset. "The (traditional) system has indoctrinated people into a certain way of thinking," which has led to the present decline of the industry, she said.