Reefnet Salmon – Sustainable and Wild

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Category : About Food Sources, Other Food Producers, Where to Buy Local Food

Pacific Sockeye SalmonWhat comes to mind first when you think of food that represents the Pacific Northwest? It’s no contest for me. I think of salmon.

Salmon is part of my personal history. When I lived in Alaska in my younger years, I spent time working on a salmon fishing tender, and then a gillnetter. For fun I sometimes helped spot salmon from a small plane. For a long time I worked in the office of a large seafood processor. Later I brokered sales of commercial salmon fishing permits and boats, and even large processing ships. These remarkable fish have been a big focus in my life, and I find them fascinating.

Five species of salmon are commonly caught in Northwest waters: king (or chinook) salmon, which are the largest; sockeye (or red) salmon; coho (or silver) salmon; pink salmon (the most plentiful); and chum (or dog) salmon. The quality is best if the salmon are caught in the ocean rather than near a freshwater stream where they run to spawn. The skins of ocean caught fish will be brighter, and the flesh will be firmer.

All species are good to eat, but my personal favorite is sockeye. The flesh is firm, the red color is lovely, the flavor is classic salmon, and they are spectacularly delicious.

Wild caught salmon are also much higher quality than farmed salmon, in my opinion. Wild fish tend to be leaner, and they are healthier to eat (higher Omega 3 uptake, for example). The high density of fish in restricted farmed containment areas can create serious problems. Farmed fish are not able to move around normally and are fed man-made protein pellets. The situation is comparable in many ways to factory farmed chickens who live their life in cages, or cattle raised in crowded unhealthy feedlots. Disease can spread quickly and easily in such close quarters, and can even threaten wild fish nearby. Don’t get me started about the hazardous chemicals likely to be found in farmed fish flesh. Sadly, not even wild fish are chemical free because of ocean pollution, but studies have shown that farmed fish contain as much as ten times the cancer-causing chemicals as wild fish.

An enormous percentage of salmon on the market in the US (and the world) comes from fish farms. Estimates I found ranged from 80% to 90% of the total. Even salmon labeled “wild” may have spent half its life in a crowded hatchery before being released. It’s important to buy carefully.

Fortunately, here in Whatcom County we have access to some of the finest wild salmon in the world. The reefnet method of fishing, practiced in Legoe Bay just off the shore of Lummi Island, produces extremely high quality salmon and is one of the most sustainable salmon fishing techniques ever used. It’s an ancient method created by Native Americans hundreds of years ago which allows for selectively catching only salmon. Unwanted species can be safely released.

Reefnet fish are sold here under the label of Lummi Island Wild, a co-op of local fishermen. I spoke to Riley Starks, a Lummi Island resident and a partner in reefnet gear and the co-op business. Regarding the prospects for Lummi Island Wild, Riley said, “We have managed to create a good solid market for pinks, by relentlessly marketing them to food service. Microsoft, Bon Appetit, Google, and lots of other high profile campuses have huge blown up photos of reefnetters catching fish. We are boarded onto the slow food ark of taste. Our future looks good!” For more information about reefnetting, see the website at: lummiislandwild.com

Lummi Island Wild sells reefnet caught salmon through a few local stores, such as The Market at Lakeway and Haggens. It’s also available to members of Acme Farms + Kitchen.

When Lummi Island Wild runs low on reefnet sockeyes, they sometimes sell Fraser River sockeyes, or sockeyes caught off the Aleutian Islands in Alaska. Those are also excellent quality wild fish, but be sure to check the labels or ask if you want to know for sure which you are getting.

Get some reefnet sockeye fillets and try this recipe:

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