Edward Waterstraat started out as a law student in Chicago and ended up a fisherman in Ketchikan. He built his own boat and set out to study oceanography, and eventually the riches of the Pacific Ocean led him to harvest its fruits rather than study them.

“To heck with going out and collecting mud samples – I went after tuna and king salmon!” he laughed.

Waterstraat’s days on the high seas are over now. He lives in the long-term care unit of PeaceHealth Ketchikan Medical Center. He pointed to several photographs pasted to the wall of his room.

“That’s a – I put it up there so everybody would know what a red snapper looked like,” he said. “Those are a couple prize-winners. That’s an Alaskan red snapper; the official name for it is a Pacific rockfish.”

This man knows his fish – the good, the bad, and the ugly. When he heard that PeaceHealth had partnered with Cedars Lodge to bring fresh, locally-caught fish to residents of the long-term care facility, he was relieved.

“I may have mentioned that I didn’t care for the Bering Sea Pollock,” he said, laughing.

Ashley Hackert, a dietitian with PeaceHealth, watched as Waterstraat tried the catch of the day – rockfish donated by Trident Seafoods. He stuck the fish with his fork, examining it. Then he took a big bite. Everyone waited for his reaction, the room quiet.

“It’s just yummy,” he said. “I got my mouth full here. It’s, ah, very good. Fresh. No complaints. And like I said, I’m the pickiest guy in the world when it comes to fish.”

Hackert is part of the Resident Council at New Horizons. It’s a panel of residents and hospital employees who work together to improve the long-term care unit. The Council is where the idea for local fish donations originated, she said.

A few of the residents, like Waterstraat, used to work in commercial fishing. Here’s Hackert.

“I can think of three or four off the top of my head that were local shoremen or fishermen in the past,” she said. “Like I said, one of the biggest requests or things they asked me about was, ‘Could we have some more salmon? Could we have some more halibut?’”

So, Hackert reached out to Cedars Lodge, a lodge and resort in Ketchikan that also processes fish. The challenge was to find a way to safely process and receive donated fish, she said.

Cedars Lodge general manager Russell Thomas said the lodge partnered with Ketchikan Pioneer Home a few years ago on a similar initiative, which Thomas describes as having been successful.

He said he hopes the people of Ketchikan will seriously consider supporting the New Horizons program.

“Our hope is just that we’ll get a lot of people who respond; either people go out and donate some excess fish, or that people will take a little out of what they might’ve taken home and be willing to donate it,” he said.

Back at the hospital, Hackert said the first fish lunch was a success.

“I think everyone really enjoyed it today,” she said. “Getting all the pieces together was the hardest part. But I think everyone was excited, and now that we have more donations coming in, I’m really excited to kind of see what’s going to happen going forward.”

Seniors at New Horizons may not be able to relive their days spent on the docks and the water, but they’re still getting a taste of their pasts – literally.