Announcing Alaska Gold Brand seafood as our latest sponsor.
We’re crazy about salmon in this house. Danny smokes a side of salmon nearly every week, which we eat as an appetizer for dinner with the kids. We pack smoked salmon in Lucy’s lunches and feed it to Desmond nearly every day. We also smoke black cod for Sunday morning bagels. (New York-style gluten-free bagels? Yes. The recipes is in our next cookbook, Gluten-Free Girl: American Classics Reinvented.) Now that it’s May, we’re eating as much halibut as we can afford.
No food makes me feel so healthy and contented as wild Alaskan seafood.
Still, we rarely offer seafood recipes on this site. We know that we’re lucky to live in the Pacific Northwest, with such easy access to great seafood. (We have a fish stand on the side of the road on Vashon, a family full of fishermen selling directly to those of us who live here.) We hesitate to put up recipes you can’t make easily.
That’s why we’re so happy to announce Alaska Gold Brand (by Seafood Producers Cooperative) as our latest sponsor.
Seafood Producers Cooperative is a band of fishing families who provide fantastic seafood direct to restaurants around the world. As they write: “70 years ago, a group of Alaskan halibut fishermen realized that the best way to ensure that their products were delivered with quality from ocean to market was to process their own fish instead of depending on the services of agents and distributors. They formed what would become North America’s oldest and most successful fishermen’s cooperative.
Today over 575 fishermen belong to Seafood Producers Cooperative and roam the waters of the North Pacific catching fish by hook and line methods. What started in 1944 as a cooperative to provide halibut liver oil to vitamin companies has now become a full-fledged organization that provides sushi producers in Japan, smokers in New York City, upscale restaurants across the United States, and reputable grocery purveyors in Europe with the highest quality fish available. And the fishermen are still the boss.”
Just recently, the folks at Seafood Producers Cooperative decided to start an online business, selling directly to consumers. This is Alaska Gold Brand.
Danny and I have tasted some fine seafood in our lives together. This is some of the best.
You can buy king salmon and coho salmon, in 5-pound and 10-pound packages, the fish already cleaned and portioned, then packed in vacuum-sealed packages. (I’m lucky that Danny loves to debone fish. Not everyone does.) Thaw the fish, open the package, and start cooking. Or, you could buy an entire salmon, if you like to clean the fish yourselves, like Danny. Alaska Gold sells sashimi-grade albacore and albacore in cans. (This is tuna you can trust. And delicious.) They sell beautiful halibut and black cod. And they have a loyalty program, where you get incredible fish every month.
We can not tell you this with enough emphasis: this is some of the best fish you will ever eat.
We’re big fans of Alaska Gold Brand, and we’re so happy they are sponsors so we can share them with you.
Kendall Whitney, the marketing manager for Alaska Gold, gave us some thoughtful answers to our questions.
Where do your fishermen catch their fish?
The majority of our salmon (king, coho and keta) are harvested in the waters of Southeast Alaska, along with our halibut, sablefish (black cod), ling cod and rockfish. We have a number of members who catch albacore tuna off the coasts of Washington and Oregon. Members catch our California Gold king salmon off the coast of Northern California.
What would you like people to know about seafood?
A big misconception among consumers is that it is difficult to prepare seafood. One of our biggest challenges is to convince consumers of just how easy it is to cook fish. Too many Americans are intimidated by cooking seafood. We believe this is a major reason why seafood consumption is so low on a per capita basis in this country.”
Over the past two decades, per capita consumption of seafood products in the United States has ranged from a low of 14.6 pounds per person in 1997 to a record high of 16.6 pounds in 2004, Whitney notes. Since 2004, U.S. annual consumption of fish and shellfish has gradually decreased, to 14.5 pounds per person in 2013. For comparison, U.S. annual per capita consumption of other major food commodities is: red meats, about 110 pounds; poultry, nearly 75 pounds; dairy products, over 600 pounds; vegetables, over 400 pounds; fruits, over 250 pounds; flour and cereal products, almost 200 pounds.
While seafood, like salmon, is a great source of Omega-3s — which have been shown to be both heart- and brain-healthy — our consumption of fish is relatively low. Most of what we get is imported, and a lot of that is caught illegally and/or mislabeled, of poor quality and not from sustainable fisheries. This is a shame, because Alaska is one of the premier fisheries in the world and is a pioneer in sustainability. We believe that the low seafood consumption here is due to misunderstanding of seafood and how to prepare it.
Why is the idea of a fisherman’s cooperative so important to your fishermen?
In a nutshell, a fisherman will get the fairest price when he or she delivers to the co-op — which is the fishermen’s own organization. It is very rare that fishermen can concentrate both on fishing and on selling their product, and do both jobs well. Working with a co-op that processes, packages and sells the fish allows members to share the costs and maximize the dollars that end up in the fisherman’s pocket. A co-op also maximizes returns on fishermen’s catches vs. what they’d make on their own. By joining forces in a co-op, fishermen lower their processing costs and ensure access to a much larger market than they would on their own. Here, members of the Halvorsen family fish for albacore tuna.
Fishermen who sell on their own face three problems: Who will process and package the fish?
How will they produce the volume needed to assure customers of a reliable supply?
How can they get enough money to solve the first two problems?
This is where a fishermen’s co-op comes in. A co-op allows fishermen to do what they do best: catch fish. A co-op can invest in processing and packaging facilities. A co-op can achieve enough scale so that customers don’t “run dry.” A co-op provides a safety net by allowing members to pool together and negotiate for better prices for common needs, such as vessel insurance and fishing gear. Co-ops have a unique way of doing business that offers fishermen the best of both worlds, giving them the opportunity to work independently while also providing a space to pull their resources together to achieve bigger goals.
At the end of the day, the reason we have members who enthusiastically join the co-op is that their fish reaches a larger market than it would if they were working on their own. They get the fairest price for their hard work.
How do your fishermen work to maintain sustainability of the fish?
Our members fish using hook-and-line methods, which minimize the “by-catch” (the catching of non-target fish species or sizes). Hook-and-line methods are the opposite of mass extraction methods — there is a tremendous amount of respect for the fish when the fisherman handles one fish at a time. As a result, we produce a quality product using more sustainable methods.
Our fishermen/members are examples of what Dan Barber writes about in Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food: “Wild fish did not come into this world just to be our food,” Barber writes. “They came into this world to pursue their own individual destinies. If we hunt them and eat them, we must hunt them with care and eat them with the fullness of our appreciation.” Our members’ use of traditional hook-and-line methods respects the quality and uniqueness of each fish. Our motto is: One Hook, One Fish at a Time. This means that we catch, process and put the fish on ice within minutes of being caught. Once you see our fishermen in action and taste the results of a line-caught salmon from SPC, we think you’ll be hooked.
Alaska is a world leader in sustainable fisheries. Maintaining sustainable fisheries is even written into the state constitution. The Alaska fisheries within which our members fish are carefully managed by biologists so that our members’ grandchildren can fish the same way that we do. That, to us, is the definition of sustainability.
At the heart of everything we do is the overriding concern for “maintaining a top-quality product, from ocean to market.” Quality is the keystone of our mission.
As you can see, Alaska Gold is an incredible, thoughtful company. We’re honored to be working with them.
Alaska Gold is generously offering 5 pounds of their excellent Coho salmon to 3 readers of this site. Please leave a comment about why you would be interested in winning salmon from this company to enter. We will choose winners at random on Friday, May 22nd. Winners will be notified by email.