Thursday, June 12, 2008

Market crash for Copper River salmon

Is anyone buying Copper River salmon?" asks Rebekah Denn, over at devouring Seattle. Umm...not so much. High prices are hurting sales of Copper River salmon and fatigue over salmon-hype may also be undermining the rush to buy.

Here in Seattle, it's becomming popular to question the special status of Copper River salmon. Retailers are stocking the fish, but questioning whether it's more about hype or actual quality.

Now that writer Taras Grescoe has sworn off salmon, both farmed AND WILD, it's time to ask: Is the shine is coming off of salmon?

We're seeing more and more people take a stand and say no to salmon, even when it means saying no to a demanding child who wants salmon (not a fun time to say "no"). Wild or farmed, there are legitimate concerns that have raised questions and motivated some people to say no to salmon. Contamination to disease risks, and overfishing to salmon declines to higher prices, it's common to hear cautions about enjoying your salmon dinner. Add in the carbon footprint of shipping salmon by air, and we just may be seeing the beginning of a backlash against salmon.

It's too bad, because salmon is good food and I won't be saying no. Even considering all the issues of concern, there are better ways to support sustainability than "just say no" to salmon. More on this later, as blogfish butchers a sacred cow of environmentalism, the cult of no.


Sophie said...

Only 10 years ago, in my country, salmon was a Christmas dish, meaning you ate smoked salmon once or twice a year. No fresh salmon at all.
Now it’s "more or less appetizing pink steak once a week".
I don’t want to say no, maybe there is enough salmon for everybody on the planet to enjoy it once or twice a year. Certainly not every week.

FoulHooked said...

I'm with sophie...if I catch a salmon myself, I may keep and eat it or not, but for me, Christmas Eve (Italian fish night) is the only day I'll be having any store-bought least until I'm comfortable lingering issues have been resolved.

Can you elaborate on the alternatives to "just say no"?

David J. Hirsh said...

Hi Mark--You beat me to it on this post, buddy. I was just reading Rebekah Denn's blog when I received links to several other articles on the salmon price issue. Interesting in view of the interchange on your blog last week about the Yukon River salmon.

Since I moved to Seattle in 1993, I have always been inspired by the "first of the year" Copper River salmon marketing frenzy. I have always thought of it as a sort of regional, communal evidence of the larger, "it's summer in Seattle!" cheer. In sequence of the same, next come those unbelievably good rainier cherries, walla walla sweet onions, and all the other regional food excellence as the season progresses toward Fall (which is when I begin to stock my bar with whiskey to make it through the rains of the inevitable, forthcoming winter).

A few years ago, I stopped buying the CR fish, except for late season (early July) sockeye which was always much cheaper and yet still a great fish. I got sick of the marketing which to me seemed aimed only at those with excessive disposable income, of which there are legions in the region. The prices almost seemed to reflect the wealth of potential buyers and not necessarily intrinsic value of the fish anymore.

This year we won't be "buying" any wild fish. I'll fish Cape Flattery, Westport, and in September, the Johns River run (not listed under the ESA) for my take. If those instances don't sufficiently stock us, I am making a commmand family policy change and buying farmed atlantic salmon at costco.

Trust me, I am well aware of the myriad environmental concerns on farmed fish, even locally farmed. I am well aware of the complaints about what they're fed and how they're colored. And I, better than perhaps many of your readers, am well aware of the potential conflicts with native run conservation in Washington,

But unlike fish caught and shipped from far away (and I count Alaska as far), they are far less energy intensive (less energy expended in raising and marketing them than they give back to the consumer) than the wild alternative. They are also reasonably well-fatted and have consistently excellent texture. And then bottom line: $5.99 a pound.

I still won't buy most of my other seafood at costco until they begin sourcing from places closer to me than Viet Nam (where they source their prawns). But salmon is too good a food and too good for us to skip it entirely and the economics of the situation have become a controlling factor for a decidely middle-class foodie like me.

Best to the family,


FoulHooked said...

"But salmon is too good a food and too good for us to skip it entirely and the economics of the situation have become a controlling factor for a decidely middle-class foodie like me."

I'm sorry David, but I take issue with this statement. People treat salmon like it's some sort of's not. It comes with a heavy price and can be substitued for as well (think small). Often the cheap alternative is too costly beneath the surface.

I love salmon. I convinced my girlfriend, who had been completely turned off to fish for years, that salmon, trout, and other fishes, are absolutely delicious. Nowadays, I eat only what I can catch, and the occasional anchovy (mmm, with crackers and cheese). I don't try to get others to swear off salmon, but to say there is no reasonable alternative, and that one cannot live without it, that I do not accept.


Mark Powell said...

Thanks all for the thoughtful views. David, you're landing very close to me with your comments on your seafood selections!!

Mark Powell said...

Foulhooked...more on alternatives to "just say no" in a coming post.

FoulHooked said...

Alternative source? Perhaps these populations could provide a bit of a respite to native runs in attempts to control their spread in south america via harvest? Doubt it, but who knows.

Anonymous said...

Funny when you mention the carbon foot print of flying the salmon. How do you think most of your fresh food gets to you? By air.
Learn about the runs and where your fish, and as much of your food as you can, comes from and then make responsible choices.
Alaska works hard to keep its fish sustainable, as do other countries and areas.
Fresh leaf lettuce was a summer only thing for many of us for years until better methods got it to us at reasonable prices.
Wise up - this is NOT a salmon issue.

Anonymous said...

Our family is fortunate to live in Alaska, close to the "good fishin holes". We catch a very small number of King Salmon, a larger number of Coho, and maybe some Reds from time to time. Enough to have Salmon meals through the year now and then, and a batch or two in the large smoker. Copper River Salmon are great, but yes expensive down south. We do not harbor "fishermans guilt" as it is a great food, and helps with saving money,more than anything though it is recreation and spending time with family. Oh by the way, my former neighbor is a Pilot, and he flies a lot of fish down south from Alaska. He has been on those "first fish of the year" flights. The carbon footprint is indeed eye-opening!!! My own carbon footprint is tough to swallow when I put the camper on our truck and head south to catch a few...... Incidentally, we do not fish the Copper, but Alaskan residents are entitled to go dip-netting there for Reds, the Chitina area is the best. We fish the Gulkana River, and Valdez (Prince William Sound).

Unknown said...

I won't be saying no to salmon, although this year (and probably next) I won't have the option to buy local California salmon, as the fishery has been closed for 2008, and likely will be closed in 2009.

Buying and eating wild salmon is a great way to support a relatively sustainable industry (the closures this year largely result from poor water management in California, combined with ocean conditions that were poor for salmon). Looking forward to your post about alternatives to salmon... I'll be interested to see your take on "farmed" salmon as well as beef and poultry. It seems to hard to believe that anything bought at Costco comes with a lower energy footprint than local fish bought at the farmer's market, but I'm interested in learning more.

Long live rockfish!
Doug O.

gamefan12 said...

This is such a good fish to eat but it is so exspensive to eat. I am a big fan of the fish but it is too high to eat.
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