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In search of our lost salmon, Part 5

Because McCall has a hatchery and there is a fishery operated by Fish & Game and the Nez Perce tribe, I thought there might be a possibility that some locally-caught fish is available in the local supermarkets, of which there are two. I went to get groceries at a long-standing supermarket closest to our house and as I walked past the seafood counter I watched as the attendant weighed two large crabs on a scale for a waiting customer. In the glass case there were about ten of those crabs neatly overlapping one another. Next to them were small trays of shrimp on ice, a plate full of salmon labeled “farmed”, and about four perch.

I asked the attendant if they carry any locally-caught fish and he scrunched his face into a confused expression. “You mean like shrimp and that sort of thing?”

“Well, no, I know that’s not local. But do you carry locally caught salmon or trout?” Forgive me for sounding naïve. It just seemed plausible in a small town with lots of fishermen that some catches would be sold commercially.

“No. All the fish we get is farmed.” He looked at me like I was the weird one, so I made an awkward comment about those “nice lookin’ crabs” and kept shopping.

If he doesn’t carry locally-caught fish, perhaps someone else in town does. I called the only natural foods store in town, the only one within at least 20 miles. This store is a tiny cottage just off the main road through town, and carries many of the natural food brands you would recognize. I know they sell fish in their freezer so I asked if it was local. When she told me no, I asked if she knew of anyone in the area who does carry local-caught fish. “I don’t know. There may be someone around here but I don’t know of anyone who does.”

The last person I called was the supermarket at the south end of town. I spoke to the head of the meat department, who told me he gets all his fish from the Ocean Beauty distribution center in Boise. “That’s where everyone around here gets their fish, including the sushi restaurant. I’ll sell wild caught if I can get it, but everything comes frozen from Boise.” The problem is scale and availability. Even a small town like McCall has trouble supplying the demand for fish to its own residents.

Ocean Beauty, LLC is based out of Seattle, WA., with production sites in Alaska,  and processing facilities in Seattle, Oregon, and Los Angeles, CA. Boise has just one of its distribution centers, which supplies to all of Southwest and Central Idaho. This makes sense for crustaceans and saltwater fish, but it seems to me that a more sustainable method for supplying salmon, perch, and river trout would be to partner with some of the local fisheries to produce a certain amount of fish for local distribution. While I may be naïve on this matter, I’m also trying to be practical. If there is a fishery nearby, and supermarkets in the area selling fish from a distribution center a hundred miles away that sources farmed fish, wouldn’t it make sense to cast closer to home? If the fisheries can produce a certain amount of fish for conservation, and a certain amount for consumption, it would not only be fresher for residents, it could potentially boost the local economy. This is an oversimplified solution, but I believe it deserves a closer look.

I pondered this idea at the kitchen table, eating wild-caught Alaska salmon from Dad’s freezer that he brought home last summer. His freezer reflects his bachelor lifestyle- filled with fish, game meat, and ice cream to last through the winter. I’m not exaggerating when I tell you it is the best salmon I’ve ever tasted. Buttery and light with hardly any hair-like bones in the filet. It argues for itself.

Paul Greenberg discusses the plausibility of a sustainable fishery in his book, and having given much thought to the world demand for fish (for food, for supplements, for fishfeed) he does not come across as naïve as I do. Because he explores every facet of fish consumption in the developed world, he leaves no argument untouched. The conclusion of his book is an excellent synopsis of the arguments he encounters during his research, with solutions for the future of aquaculture and wild species. The conclusion is concise and informative, but if you skip to the conclusion you’ll want to start at the beginning of the book anyway. There are way too many questions on this subject that you have not yet considered.  

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