Something fishy this way swims
Morels mean spring, peaches summer. Autumn brings pumpkins, and winter citrus. But fruits and veggies don’t have a monopoly on seasonality. “There are certain seasons for fish,” said Harry Mahleres, director of purchasing for Seattle Fish, a major seafood supplier to many local restaurants. “Halibut and salmon are the two big ones that come to mind right off the bat.”
Halibut season opened in early March for Alaska and Canada, and will stay open until November 15. But talking about salmon season is like talking about berry season; there are so many different kinds, it’s impossible to lump them all together. Not only are there King, Sockeye, Chum, Coho and Pink Salmons, but where they run is another subset. The Copper River season (King and Sockeye) opened this week, and is a 30-day opener, while the Kodiak season won’t open until June. Over the course of the next few days, wild salmon will be available in local grocery stores, fresh off the boats.
Fish quotas are based on a variety of scientific information, while seasons can be more intuitive. Estimated fish count and specific environmental concerns contribute to the maximum quota for each species. But when it’s nicer to fish is also a factor. For instance, very few people would rather fish in Alaska during the winter versus the summer. Ultimately, the fish seasons are created by the fisheries in order to promote sustainability.
“Sustainability is something we’re very interested in,” said Amy Blanchard, a local sales representative for the Denver-based Seattle Fish. “If we do it right, wild fish are a renewable resource year after year,” Mahleres said. “That’s why we buy wild fish, and to the best of our ability and knowledge, we only buy wild fish from sustainable sources.”Which is why where a fish is caught is just as important as the species. Right now Atlantic Cod is a no-no, but Pacific Cod is highly recommended. What’s O.K. to eat one year might not be recommended the next. Many factors, including how high or low the stocks are, and the risk of environmental contaminants, go into the equation. Seafood Watch, supported by the Monterey Bay Aquarium, is a non-profit organization that monitors such information. Every year they produce a free, download-able list of what to try and what to avoid. Despite the American public’s growing affection for organic produce, fish is another matter entirely.”In the U.S., you can’t ever call a fish organic,” Blanchard said. “There are too many outside factors. We call it natural.”At Seattle Fish, Mahleres works with 100 vendors from all around the globe on a regular basis.”Tuna is our biggest wild fish,” he said. “It’s probably the most popular. There are several different species we buy and sell. We prefer the domestic catch, but it’s not available all the time. Sometimes we don’t have a choice, and we’re pretty picky. Especially with tuna, you have to be fairly discriminating.”From train to plane But finding them is only the first part of the equation. Getting them here is an exercise in logistics and quality control. “For the most part, the fish is flown in,” Blanchard explained. Seattle Fish employs inspectors who wait at the airport and check each and every delivery as it arrives. Each package is shot with a gun of sorts, which checks the core temperature of the fish inside. If the temperature is off, then out goes the fish. But fish didn’t always arrive via plane. “In 1918 they brought it in on the rails,” Blanchard said. “It was packed in ice and sawdust, and at every stop they’d pack more ice on it.”Because of the difficulty of transporting the fish, anyone living in the Rockies was liable to eat trout and more trout. (Incidentally, the trout served in most restaurants comes from Idaho these days.) But with the advent of reliable transportation and global awareness, Coloradans are branching out.”I think tastes have changed to more wild species,” Mahleres said. “The tastes have gone to more specialty breeds, too, such as Dovers and Turbots. Now that there’s a lot more variety available, people can be more discriminating.”And adventuresome.
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