Saving Salmon by Eating Them

Salmon are more than just fish. The immense spawning runs that once filled rivers from Southern California to the Alaskan Arctic formed the lifeblood of coastal ecosystems, nature’s conduit for moving nutrients from the bountiful Pacific to the sterile interior. Ocean elements have been discovered thousands of miles inland, brought there by salmon, and carried deep into the forest and mountains in the bellies of bears, wolves and human beings.

Salmon’s former abundance created a thriving human population, with great centers of culture and trade springing up wherever people gathered for the harvest. To the original inhabitants of our coastlines, salmon meant life itself. And today, these fish still carry deep meaning. They are symbols of wild, clean water, a connection to the ancient rhythms of tide and season.

Wild Pacific salmon have fed us—in both body and spirit—for 10,000 years. We have always found comfort in knowing they will return from the sea next season, and the one after that. But unless we can change destructive practices within the salmon industry, their return grows more doubtful with each passing year.

All Salmon Are Not Created Equal
It’s getting tough to decide which seafood is okay to eat anymore, and salmon are no exception. While we know they taste great and come loaded with protein and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, there are serious problems within the salmon industry.

Industrial net-pen salmon farms, with their vast quantities of waste pollution, disease, parasites and chemicals exact a terrible toll on wild salmon populations. Fish produced in these ocean feedlots require dye-enhanced feed to make their gray flesh appear a more natural pinkish color. If that’s not unappealing enough, farmed salmon frequently contain antibiotics, concentrated PCBs and other chemicals.

Off the coast, wild salmon stocks mix and mingle all along their migration routes. Commercial fishers in the open ocean cannot truly know were the fish they are catching originated. While sustainable populations may be targeted, the actual harvest can—and often does—include fish from endangered stocks.

The large-river gillnet fisheries kill a majority of the fish they encounter, unable to discriminate between robust populations and those struggling for survival. In the Skeena River, for example, sockeye and pink salmon return in great abundance, but harvesting by gillnet means unacceptable numbers of coho and steelhead perish as by-catch.

Thankfully, there are still healthy, sustainable runs of wild salmon available. These are fish we can harvest, eat and enjoy; food that makes us feel good in more ways than one. We just have to know our fish and harvest selectively.

What Does A Clothing Company Know About Fish?
Strange as it might sound, our fish story starts with the cotton industry. In the early 90s, workers at some of our stores were getting sick when new shipments of cotton t-shirts arrived. Air quality analysis identified formaldehyde and other chemicals in the shirts as the culprit. It was suggested that better ventilation would end the problem, but that felt like ducking the real issue.

With a little research, we discovered that conventionally produced cotton is one of the most harmful industries on earth. It requires extensive use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and chemical defoliants, not to mention staggering amounts of chlorine bleach, toxic dyes and formaldehyde for processing.

Our immediate reaction was to simply stop using cotton in our products, but we realized a boycott wouldn’t change anything. The “bad” cotton would still be grown and processed, and somebody else would make clothes out of it.

The only solution, then, was to start working with select growers and processors to create an organic cotton supply for our products. By 1996, we had converted our entire sportswear line to 100% organically grown cotton. Sure, it cost more. But this decision kept thousands of pounds of toxic chemicals out of the environment, and our customers quickly discovered the new organic cotton products felt better and lasted longer. It’s been one of our greatest success stories.

Now we’d like to make the same kind of changes in the salmon industry.

Go To The Source
In order to succeed, we understand Patagonia Provisions salmon products must be the finest in the world. Period. To this end, we’ve teamed up with Harald Kossler, the legendary smokehouse guru of Terrace, B.C. Based on extensive testing—and the fact that we can’t stop eating Harald’s delicacies ourselves—we’re confident these are the most delicious, healthiest salmon products on the market.

To meet our higher goals, though, we needed to develop an entirely new sourcing system for our fish. Working with Skeena Wild, a Canadian fish conservation organization, we’ve identified sustainable, in-river fisheries that use tangle-tooth nets, beach seines and traditional First Nations fish wheels and dip nets. These selective-harvest techniques produce higher quality fish and, most importantly, allow non-target species to survive and spawn. Our sourcing process has also made Patagonia Provisions the first fish-industry business working in active partnership with conservation NGOs.

Our fish processing plant in northern British Columbia provides local employment andkeeps the “value” in “value-added products” within the community. This state-of-the-art facility runs under spotless health standards. It has achieved the top ISO 22000 certification, as well as food safety certification, under the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. We are now working toward a zero-waste operation with complete repurposing of all fish byproducts.

The Future of Wild Salmon
The salmon industry today is a broken model. Too many endangered stocks are dwindling under the pressures of indiscriminate harvest and unsustainable fish-farming techniques. Something has to change. We believe a market-based solution is the best way to effect that change. Our goal, then, is to create a new model, one which demonstrates that adding value to selectively harvested salmon is not only possible, but good business. With your help, our success can create opportunities to reform current fisheries and protect the future of wild salmon.

What do we know about the fish business? Maybe just enough to change it for the better. Thank you for your support.