Observations on the decline of Alaska’s King Salmon

July 8, 2024 in Seafood For Thought, Seasonal Wild Catch, Slideshow

Almost a year ago, a long time customer and investor of Otolith LLC, asked for my opinion on an article published in the NY Times. First of all, I am honored to be considered an opinion of value regarding North Pacific Fisheries, the subject of the article. Second, I am proud to work on behalf of and in cooperation with clients and supporters of Otolith LLC who are dedicated to testing the culture of their lives, understanding environments and interdependence of species, and interested in complex systems both man made like business and naturally occurring such as those deep within the waters of our world’s oceans. All of these subjects belong in our lives and at our table. Having the privilege to enjoy family dinners throughout my life, I learned to challenge my assumptions, question my sources and invest my time and my money in what I value. The NY Times article, I endeavor to organize my thoughts in the interest of contextualizing its reporting, Starving Orcas and the Fate of Alaska’s Disappearing King Salmon, was reported by Julia O’Malley; published on July 19, 2023.

In my twenties, I was introduced to commercial fishing, specifically Southeast [SE] Alaskan salmon fisheries. There are five wild salmon species: pink, keta, sockeye, coho and chinook (king). In 1996, SE Alaska had already begun enhancing salmon fisheries by way of hatcheries earlier that same decade, although some SE hatchers began in the 1980’s as pilot programs. During those early years of hatchery stock supplementation, SE King Salmon seemed wildly abundant, large, and sufficiently profitable to grow both global demand and its corresponding marketing industry for the world’s finest tasting and most nutritious salmon. Because availability was higher then, the price of king salmon sold at grocery stores was $18.99-$20/lb or thereabout depending on the season. Winter king salmon being fewer in number than summer harvested populations their price was notably higher yet not above $23/lb. Likewise once the peak of Alaska’s summer king salmon run began their final journey funneling themselves toward their spawning freshwater river destinations, catch level soared and were able to supply some summer fresh fish markets with fabulous quality Alaskan king salmon sold to consumers for as little at $16.99/lb. In the 1990’s millions of pounds of Alaskan kings caught included both wild king salmon and newly expanded upon hatchery programs’ king salmon, reared in near shore pens to be released as fry from their stable controlled environment free from predators until sufficiently grown to take on the wild waters of the ocean. At first glance, hatcheries were like a miracle to salmon harvesters. They offered assurance of abundant prey and continuous seasonal cashflow. They added predictability for processors and harvesters alike to prepare for larger seasons based on the number of fry released in prior years. Many made more money than ever before catching, processing and selling wild king salmon. King salmon landings have been declining over the last 40 years, and it is not surprising given the negative impacts hatcheries have had on the mortality rate of wild king salmon stocks over that same period.

Salmon researchers now know, hatcheries are not the panacea they were once thought to be. Because the salmon DNA, while taken from wild chinook, are used to replicate 8-10 times as many hatchery fry from a single genetic source code than would have occurred naturally among reproducing wild kings, the resulting hatchery salmon once released to complete their life’s journey in the wild are less resilient to life threatening environmental impacts and are increasingly more likely to reproduce directly with wild salmon than other wild salmon are to reproduce with one another. The survival rate of hatchery chinook is lower than that of their wild counterparts. This poses a risk to wild populations when hatchery reared salmon interbreed with wild salmon, thereby creating future populations of salmon also lacking the organic genetic diversity and resilience of a wild chinook. The exponential affect of reduced survival could be a primary reason why we are seeing fewer chinook salmon harvested today.

Reading in the article about Kenai Peninsula College’s presentation on the state of salmon given in April 2023 by Peter Westley, ass. Professor of Alaska Fairbanks College of Fisheries and Ocean Science was the most informative and interesting part, albeit brief and under emphasized in its scientific significance. It is here that we read about parasites and their threat to wild king salmon. Additional challenges to king salmon, mentioned in Mr. Westly’s presentation, include climate change and hatchery fish, referred to as in competition with wild king salmon stocks. Although, I would not characterize the relationship between hatchery salmon and wild salmon as competitive given their assured mutual self destruction were hatcheries to continue with business as usual, it is the reporting of Westly’s mention of parasites that stimulated my interest not hatcheries.

Salmon farms are notorious breeding grounds for deadly salmon viruses and high concentrations of parasitic sealice. Washinton and Maine are the two largest farmed salmon producing states, and they are small compared to Canada (located between Washington and Alaska), Norway and Chile. Maine lost its wild Atlantic salmon fisheries back in 1948 due to development. Rivers and streams necessary for wild salmon to spawn were dammed, polluted, and/or filled in for development. Overfishing played a role in the loss of Maines wild salmon fishery as the population of the North east corridor grew to approximately 70% of the total US population. Salmon farms began in North America around in the 1970’s but they got the green light to expand and compete with wild salmon with pens located off the coast of Washington in 1980’s, about 40 years ago. It is known, farmed salmon spread disease to wild salmon traveling through and inhabiting surrounding waters of commercial salmon farms. The closer wild salmon interact within the area of salmon farms the higher become their numbers of infected wild salmon within a wild population. The deadly viruses and increasingly overwhelming parasites introduced by salmon farms are killing wild king salmon and the ocean floor below their pens. Meanwhile, salmon farms reportedly are working to reduce their use of antibiotics to control disease, while simultaneously being permitted to endanger the lives of wild salmon. The harm to wild salmon caused by salmon farming doesn’t end at diseases and parasites. Salmon farming derives the food fed to its product from wild fish harvested in the ocean. Using feeder fish, referred to as thus due to the entirety of the ocean food chain dependent upon them as food to sustain their biome, salmon farms inefficiently require up to 4.5 lbs of feed to produce 1 pound of gained farmed product weight. The justification of this net loss to global environmental balance being that some of the imbalance is offset by the post processing disposed fish carcasses commercially used to produce other products which can be fed to alternative species of farmed fish requiring far fewer seafood in their diet in order to grow such as tilapia and catfish. Farmed salmon is inefficient from inception in all things except profitability. Should farmed salmon ever reach an equilibrium whereas consuming 1 lb of fish meal were to yield 1 lb of equivalent growth like their wild DNA doners, it would still not justify to any rational salmon lover the cost of destroying one of the world’s best tasting and efficiently reproducing sources of a complete food which goes out to the depths of the Pacific Ocean in search of its sustenance before returning larger, tastier and conveniently to our doorstep for us to harvest and enjoy. It is a conflicting goal to support both wild salmon stocks and farmed salmon within a shared region of the ocean.

Scotland and other countries of Europe have chosen farmed salmon prosperity over wild. Their incentives include control of the resource, control of the price, and control of the legislation to minimally regulate salmon farms, claiming to embrace their struggle to provide new solutions to their continuous problem of increasing farmed salmon mortality due to disease and parasitic infestations, a direct result of the conditions of their farming. It’s the American equivalent of farming bald eagles while convincing us they should be the main dish at our Thanksgiving dinners. Farmed salmon producers are benefiting from the prestige of king salmon and its notorious characteristics of color, flavor, texture and nutrients, making it one of the world’s most satiating and scrumptious meals. Salmon farm companies, using slight of hand and marketing, serve an inequivalent, unsustainable, less desirable and far less enjoyable look alike manmade product as a substitute for the real thing. Farmed salmon is directly competing with wild chinook and its not a fair fight.

In the United States, our most influential commercial salmon fishery stakeholders include corporate seafood processors, fishermen and the small communities dependent upon the economy provided by salmon in the Pacific Northwest. Furthermore, US demand for salmon increases by nearly 20% annually as marketing over simplifies the health benefits of farmed salmon, population grows, cheaper farmed salmon become more available, and more consumers cut back on red meat. At best wild salmon is a stable reoccurring mega nutritious sustainable resource with an occasional boom year that is marginally predicable at best, while farmed salmon are produced with increasing equivalent volume of 20% annually and higher profit per pound at the expense of environment. It’s a tale as old as time, however it is not necessary all resources must be squandered in favor of profits. Diversity is a characteristic of sustainability. Without king salmon, what’s next? Coho? Sockeye? What if corporations wishing to profit from sales of goods were limited in the scope of their environmental destruction by regulations? We cannot turn the east coast back into a wilderness but, we can maintain an approach to environmental preservation that favors a sustainable longer sucess benefiting all of its citizens.

The result of chinook salmon’s calamity is conflict among local communities, corporate seafood processors, and fishery scientists. Like many industries, seafood in Alaska repeatedly used consolidation of facilities to increase profits and, using short term profit gains, pay higher dock prices to their largest and most effective harvesters in order to assure their loyalty and support. This process continues today as locally owned processors organize harvesters of their local fleet to consolidate interests in favor of their bottom line and their position regarding local fishery management and corporate goals. In the system of favored larges of harvest, process, and influence, it is often the case small independent salmon harvesters are underrepresented politically and socially even as they may conform and agree to the recommendation of science in favor of long term sustainability and exponential benefit to their community. The science and small vessel harvesters, of lowest environmental impact, appear to be on the same side in favor of increasing protection of the wild chinook salmon populations, increasing regulations for chinook salmon hatcheries, and dismantling salmon farms from regions home to wild salmon. As a consumer, I consider commercial salmon fisheries a bell weather issue in America. I support wild salmon culturally at my table, financially by supporting low impact harvesters and small independent processors, and by sharing my opinion against maintaining the status quo of king salmon’s declining fate. If we chose to passivly watch as our beloved king salmon reduce to irrecoverable numbers, then we may not blame climate, pollution, or overfishing. The most significant impacts to North Pacific King Salmon have all occurred throughout the last 40 years as hatcheries and salmon farms have increased to produce ever more salmon for stirred up market demand. It is not too late for pink salmon to be marketed successfully in the US providing an affordable delicious alternative to the mighty king. Pink salmon is second in omega-3 and, like all wild salmon, when harvested bright off the ocean are amazing.

 

References

  1. Salmon Farming Gets Leaner and Greener (nationalgeographic.com)
  2. Cracking the Code: Scientists Use DNA to Examine Differences between Hatchery and Wild Chinook Salmon in Southeast Alaska | NOAA Fisheries
  3. The DNA of salmon heritage | Focus (ubc.ca)

Smoked Sablefish Simply Superb!

November 29, 2023 in Seasonal Wild Catch

Portions, pin bone out, Smoked Sablefish fillet, $33/lb 

Ready to thaw and serve at room temperature with bread and white wine or  heat through in the oven and enjoy as a main course entre served with a side of winter squash, fall greens and big glass of red on a cold night.  From simple to sensational Smoked Sablefish is here for a limited time every holiday season at the request of one of Otolith’s original partners.  Otolith custom orders this cold smoked seafood delicacy smoked using fall seasonal harvest wild sablefish and white cedar and alder woods.

7.5 oz Sockeye Salmon Cans, $6 each or 6 cans/$30

June 7, 2023 in Products, Seasonal Wild Catch

Packed in Petersburg, AK

Straight from Southeast Alaska, these 7.5 oz pressure cooked cans of sockeye wild salmon are the apex of sustainable seafood. The vicinity of the Wrangell Narrows, a narrow channel in the Alexander Archipelago of Southeast Alaska, doesn’t suffer from the pitfalls of overdevelopment. Big ships just won’t fit! This lack of large scale fisheries paves the way for small scale, artisanal harvesters to thrive on the island community of Petersburg where these cans are produced. We also want to mention that each can contains 800 mg of omega 3 fatty acids which contain numerous health benefits. In fact, some research shows strong evidence that the omega-3s EPA and DHA can boost heart health and reduce triglycerides.

There are no additives or water in these cans – only sea salt, sockeye and sustainable sumptuous flavor. Don’t take our word for it though, try a can (or two) today! They are 5 dollars a can or you can purchase and entire case of 6 cans for $30 dollars. Supplies are limited!

Here is an awesome recipe for these cans of delicious salmon! Enjoy!

Smoked Coho Salmon Strips [1/2 lb avg wt packs] $12.50 each

July 27, 2022 in Seasonal Wild Catch

Read to eat, savory and scrumptious.

Smoked King Salmon $35/lb [seasonally available Nov-January]

Smoked Sockeye $30/lb [seasonally available Nov-January]

Smoked Coho $25/lb [1/2 lb pack of B/L strips] Order NOW! sales@otolithonline.com

Assorted Smoked Salmon

 

Join CSS King Salmon, Sockeye and Coho Salmon!

April 7, 2022 in Products, Seasonal Wild Catch, Slideshow

Superior sockeye!

Join Otolith’s Community Supported Seafood Program and enjoy affordable access to seasonal summer wild salmon all year!

Community Supported Seafood 2024 Summer Harvest Programs for sockeye, coho and king salmon deliver in September 2022.  Arrival Notifications are emailed.  Delivery is available every Wednesday and Friday once the salmon is available for distribution.

Printer Friendly CSS Enrollment Form

Delivery is always FREE for CSS members. CSS Membership has no additional charge. CSS provides savings for you and predictability for distributors while providing low impact fisherman more opportunities to get the best price for their harvest.

CSS 2024 salmon harvests deliver in September through December and provide discounted access to responsible harvest wild seafood every season via Otolith’s Community Supported Seafood Programs.   Otolith connects your power with our knowledge and uses our combined interest to generously support the harvesters who work on our behalf, the superior processors located at the port of landing, and local distributors in your area providing efficient and quality service to your door.

It feels wonderful to eat superior wild seafood and enjoy the convenience of having it available in your freezer ready to be cooked at your convenience.  The taste is better than fresh.  Its First Fresh Cut™ and sushi grade.  The powerful omega-3’s naturally present in all of Otolith’s wild seafood benefit the health of your body on a cellular level.  You may experience increased quality of life associated with being satisfied, receiving the nutrients your body craves, and having friends who want to have dinner at your house.

Community Supported Seafood is a purchase agreement authorizing Otolith LLC to purchase your wild fish and schedule your delivery through third-party providers. To join, complete the CSS 2024 Summer Salmon Enrollment Form [above] and mail your completed for with your payment to Community Supported Seafood, PO BOX 1523, Philadelphia, PA 19125. Email sales@communitsupportedseafood.com to confirm your area is supported within the CSS delivery program distribution region including PA, NJ. NY and DE

Sidestripe Shrimp $16.99/lb

February 27, 2022 in Products

Contact Otolith to place an order today for your FREE delivery of superior wild seafood.

Or spend less and get more with Community Supported Seafood.  CSS wild seafood harvest programs deliver seasonally and provide discounted access to responsible harvest renewable seafood resources. Otolith connects your power with our knowledge and uses our combined interest to generously support the harvesters who work on our behalf.

It feels wonderful to eat superior wild seafood and enjoy the convenience of having it available in your freezer ready to be cooked at your convenience.  The taste is better than fresh.  Its First Fresh Cut™ and sushi grade.  The powerful omega-3’s naturally present in all of Otolith’s wild seafood will improve the health of your body on a cellular level.  You may experience increased quality of life associated with being satisfied, receiving the nutrients your body craves, and having friends who want to have dinner at your house.

Sablefish $25, Rockfish $16.99 and Halibut $29.99

April 7, 2021 in Products, Seasonal Wild Catch

White King Salmon, Sablefish, Rockfish and Halibut

Contact Otolith to place an order today for your superior halibut, sablefish and rockfish fillets.

Retail Prices: [Discounts available for purchases over 5 lbs and wholesale clients]

Lingcod $25.50/lb [avg. wt 1/2-3/4  lb fillet portions] B/S

Rockfish $16.99/lb [avg. wt 3/4 -1 lb fillet portions] B/S

Halibut $29.99/lb [avg. wt. 1/2-3/4 lb fillet portions] B/S

Sablefish $25/lb [avg. wt. 3/4 – 1 lb fillet portions] S/O, PBI

White King Salmon $34.99/lb [avg. wt. 3 lb whole fillet] PBI, S/O

Or spend less and get more with Community Supported Seafood.  CSS 2022 Summer harvests deliver in September and provide discounted access to responsible harvest wild seafood every season via www.communitysupportedseafood.com  or by way of mail-in CSS 2022 Enrollment Form. Otolith connects your power with our knowledge and uses our combined interest to generously support the harvesters who work on our behalf.

It feels wonderful to eat superior wild seafood and enjoy the convenience of having it available in your freezer ready to be cooked at your convenience.  The taste is better than fresh.  Its First Fresh Cut™ and sushi grade.  The powerful omega-3’s naturally present in all of Otolith’s wild seafood will improve the health of your body on a cellular level.  You may experience increased quality of life associated with being satisfied, receiving the nutrients your body craves, and having friends who want to have dinner at your house.

Printer Friendly CSS Enrollment Form

Dungeness crab, Seasonal and Sensational $27/lb

February 27, 2021 in Seasonal Wild Catch, Slideshow

Harvested in May 2022, seasonal Dungeness crab is available for a limited time to assure the best quality and freshest tasting crab. All Dungeness crab arrives frozen and partially cooked to protect its flavor and texture from harvest to table.  Dungeness crab is best cooked frozen and steamed or braised in shallow simmering liquid for approx 15 minutes or until the fresh briny aroma of its ocean origin infuses the kitchen.  It’s done when your nose knows its done.

Thawing and Cooking

November 29, 2020 in Seasonal Wild Catch, Slideshow

For superior results and best handling practices always thaw seafood under refrigeration.  A slow cool thaw will gently increase the temperature of your superior Otolith seafood protecting its quality and flavor.

When you want to enjoy Otolith’s fish raw then Otolith’s recommends Otolith’s Quick Thaw method.

20 Minute Quick Thaw

Otolith’s Quick Thaw© Directions*

Always puncture, cut or release vacuum seal of fresh/frozen Otolith sustainable seafood before thawing.  Thaw your seafood while in its specifically designed pouch.  Use a sharp knife to make a very small puncture in the top corner of the pouch. [Note: USDA Safe Defrosting Methods]

Place punctured pouch in clean warm water.   Do not allow the warm water to get into the protective pouch.  Replace warm water after 10 minutes .  Most fillets take 20 minutes to thaw.  Filets larger than 3/4 inch thick may take longer.

Otolith’s fish is sushi-grade and may be eaten raw after it has been thawed using Otolith’s Quick Thaw© directions and provided it is kept dry and stored between 34-40 degrees using refrigeration to control the temperature of your sushi-grade fish. 

Raw fish and sushi may be served for up to 2 hours on pre-chilled plates using frozen gel packs beneath the plates to control the plate temperature while serving.  Raw fish should be stored under refrigeration. Using gel packs to control the temperature of raw fish reduces the amount of time fish will remain safe for raw consumption compared to raw fish stored under refrigeration [34-40F].  Do not eat raw fish that has been improperly handled or stored.

Refrigerated Thaw: place open pouch in clean bowl and allow to set in refrigerator for 5-8 hours to thaw depending on the thickness of the seafood.  Thicker fillets or whole fish may take longer.

To enjoy the superior quality and fresh taste of Otolith premium seafood, please consume within 7 days of thawing seafood.  Otolith’s sustainable seafood properly thawed and stored under refrigeration will remain safe to cook and eat for up to 7 days.  While fillets and shellfish may be rinsed with cold water and pat dry with a clean towel before cooking, never soak seafood directly in water.  Always thaw in pouch or open air and remember to puncture package releasing the vacuum seal prior to thawing.

Cooking Directions – Cutting portions before cooking can prevent over cooking thinner pieces provided you remove thinner portions of cooked seafood from the heat source once cooked.  Cook fattier fish fillets at 400 degrees for 10 minutes per inch of thickness.  And cook leaner fish like sockeye, coho, halibut and lingcod at 250F degrees for 30 minutes per inch of thickness. Lower cooking temperatures provide more control while cooking.  Over cooking lean wild fish will cause the fish to get tough and dry. Cut into portions before cooking increases the surface area for added flavors/seasonings and may be used to smaller portions of equal size or thickness for uniform cooking times; cutting seafood into portions before cooking does not reduce the quality of your premium Otolith fish or shellfish provided you make clean cuts using a sharp knife.  For more specific cooking tips and directions, please use the products drop down menu to visit the specific page for each species of fish or shellfish and when searching recipes online use key words “wild” and exact name of the species .

*Recommended by Otolith not the USDA.  Otolith LLP, Community Supported Seafood LLC, their affiliates and/or heirs are not responsible for the improper use of Otolith’s Quick Thaw© technique.  Otolith’s Rapid Thaw© technique was designed to allow for the highest quality and safest consumption of sushi grade raw fish and cooked seafood.  Proper use of Otolith’s Quick Thaw© only allows for the safe consumption of raw fish for no more than 6 hours provided the fish once thawed is continually stored under refrigeration temperatures between 34-38°.  Improper handling of Quick Thaw© fish or shellfish will reduce the amount of time that fish can safely be eaten raw.  Example:  Sushi rolls served on a chilled plate without gel packs should be eaten within 40 minutes or discarded.  All raw fish should be held at a controlled temperature [34-40°] to sufficiently inhibit the growth of dangerous bacteria and other micro-organisms.

Spot Prawns $27.99/lb [16-20 ct]

November 8, 2020 in Products, Seasonal Wild Catch, Slideshow

Photo Courtesy of Kaagwei Howard Walcott

Difficult to source and harder still to harvest, Spot Prawns are a uniquely scrumptious wild shellfish full of sweet flavor combined with rich umami savoriness and a beautiful white texture that is firm to the bite without being chewy.

Festive recipe using peeled and boiled prawns provide an exciting and talked about delicacy of the ocean that remains wildly abundant in in Southeast Alaska.  Harvested using pot trap gear, spot prawns are managed for generations of sustainable seafood resource  access.

Spot Prawns are sold as tails only and are easy to peel once cooked while not terribly difficult to peel raw.  Owning to their characteristics of freshness and Otolith’s commitment to superior quality, spot prawns shells are as attached to their prawns’ bodies as much as they day they were harvested.  Thawing shellfish under refrigeration at least a few up to 7 days before cooking will make shells easier to remove and peel.  The hard shells of a large prawn are easy to grasp and the firm texture of the prawns simplifies the task while it is pinched from its shell.   No deveining required. Approximate time to peel 20 large prawns:  6-7 minutes

Seasoned Prawn Boil: Approximately 1/2 cup of liquid for every 1/2 lb prawns.

For 2 lb recipe

Ingredients:

2 lbs Spot Prawns  – thawed, unpeeled or peeled with shells reserved*

1 cups water – may use 2 cups white wine or half wine and half water

1 cups white wine or diluted lemon juice [juice of 2 lemons plus water], pilsner beer, or vegetable stock

1 small onion quartered

3 celery stalks quartered into shorter lengths

1 carrot quartered lengthwise

1 garlic clove smashed

1 Tbs crushed peppercorns [dried or brined]

1 Tbs salt – optional

1 sprig rosemary

1/4 bunch of any fresh or wilting green herbs

1 Tbs lemon zest or peel – no pith

1 stick of butter

any vegetables beside beets [avoid staining the prawns] can go into the pot at your discretion

In a large sauce pot, combine all ingredients except prawns, cover and bring to a boil.  Add unpeeled prawns to the pot, cover and cook until done.  Approximately 7-10 minutes.  Give the prawns a stir to make sure all tails are curled slightly, fully cooked and opaque throughout.  Remove from the heat. Allow to cool slightly and serve with fresh crusty baguette. Prawns will require peeling wile eating. This recipe does not use cocktail sauce.  If you like cocktail sauce omit butter and bread from the recipe and serve the prawns chilled and strained. Reserve liquid frozen for use as a soup base or stock for risotto. This recipe may be made up to 1 day in advance.

*For a more formal version of this recipe see below.

Prawns can be peeled up to 24 hours before cooking.  Prawn shells are optional in this recipe and can be boiled to make the cooking stock used to serve with shelled prawns. To make a stock from prawn shells repeat the recipe above except adding only prawn shells to the stock and allow stock to cool completely before straining the stock to remove all of the ingredients except its liquid. Then add the butter to the cooled strained stock and reheat it the stock on medium heat. Once the butter is completely melted add the shelled prawns.  Cook until peeled prawns are curled and opaque [approx 8-10 minutes].  Serve in bowls with crusty baguette. This recipe does not use cocktail sauce.  If you like cocktail sauce omit butter and bread from the recipe and serve the prawns chilled and strained. Reserve liquid frozen for use as a soup base or stock for risotto.

Best Homemade cocktail sauce: 4 parts ketchup, 1 part horseradish, 1 fresh lemon juiced, 1 tsp  Worcestershire sauce or 1/4 tin chopped anchovies. Serve chilled. May be made up to 1 day ahead.

Cooking and Handling Spot Prawns