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Species Focus: Wild salmon
Retailers and restaurateurs in the Lower 48 look north to Alaska for seasonal salmon promos
By Rick Ramseyer
August 01, 2006
It's safe to describe Jeremy McLachlan, the executive chef
at Salty's Seafood Grill on Alki Beach in Seattle, as an
unabashed fan of wild salmon.
"I love the color, the flavor, the fattiness … and how it
cooks," McLachlan says.
Wild salmon, in fact, is a huge seller at all three Salty's
restaurants. The Alki and Portland, Ore., locations each use
10,000 pounds per year, and the Redondo Beach site in South
Seattle goes through another 6,000 pounds.
Salty's typically offers wild salmon - predominantly kings,
plus some sockeye - from mid-May until early fall and has up to
eight salmon dishes on the menu. Last month, one of the entrées
at the Alki restaurant was two 4-ounce portions, served with
locally farmed vegetables and assorted dipping sauces, for
"We run a special with salmon every night," McLachlan
Salty's has plenty of company. Salmon, both wild and farmed,
is the nation's third-most-popular seafood, with per-capita
consumption at nearly 2.2 pounds. And it's a growing finfish
favorite in U.S. restaurants and supermarkets, thanks in part
to its healthful, omega-3-rich profile.
Sales of wild salmon get a further boost from
industry-sponsored seafood promotions and species- and
region-specific marketing programs that tout the five Pacific
varieties: chinook (king), chum (keta), coho (silver), pink and
Alaska accounts for more than 90 percent of the U.S. salmon
catch. For 2006, the state's salmon harvest is projected to
total 166.9 million fish. That's substantially less than the
record 221 million last year but still ranks among Alaska's top
The ex-vessel value of this year's catch, meanwhile, is
expected to reach $300 million. And while that's well below the
2005 mark of $334 million, it's far better than the 2002 low
point of $162 million recorded by the Seafood Market
Information Service in Juneau.
Through July 5, Alaska's salmon harvest topped 26 million
fish, including 16.7 million sockeye, just over 5 million pinks
and nearly 4 million chum, according to the Alaska Department
of Fish & Game.
The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, a state- and
industry-backed corporation that two years ago tightened its
focus with a streamlined, processor-centric board of directors,
is now placing greater emphasis on consumer outreach. In the
mix again for 2006 are advertisements in national consumer
magazines such as Cooking Light, Sunset and Bon Appétit , as
well as cooking demonstrations at events like the Boston
Women's Show next month and the Chicago Women's Show in
The idea is to highlight Alaska seafood - including salmon -
on stage, perhaps prompting attendees "to go to their local
grocery store to pick it up in the seafood case," says Laura
Fleming, ASMI's communications director.
Moreover, ASMI continues to develop promotional materials
for foodservice and retail channels. It is working on
customized, seasonal promo- tions with national restaurant
chains like McCormick & Schmick's and Country Kitchen, plus
regional players, such as Skippers in the Northwest, Phillips
in the Mid-Atlantic, Gastronomy in Salt Lake City and Ivar's
And in the retail world, ASMI is strengthening its on-site
training programs for seafood-department managers and
Several Kroger supermarkets in the Southeast, for example,
recently received in-depth information about handling,
preparing and merchandising Alaska fish and shellfish.
"We've always worked with [retailers], but we're developing
that into a stronger, tailored program," Fleming says.
ASMI's retail toolbox also contains enhanced point-of-sale
materials, such as a downloadable PowerPoint presentation that
supports the Cook it Frozen campaign, which shows "how to cook
seafood that's just come out of your freezer," Fleming says.
"Retailers can use these materials to train their own people
about how to put on a demo."
The latest addition to the ASMI promotional lineup is
electronic files of 5-by-8-inch recipe cards that can be made
available at the seafood case or during in-store culinary
The cards, which sport a shopping list for entrées like
Alaska salmon, plus side dishes and desserts, are modeled after
those created by Publix Super Markets in Lakeland, Fla., for
use by the Publix Apron's Cooking School.
"We aren't going to print these," Fleming explains. "They
are digital art files available to Alaska seafood suppliers,
who then can offer them or print them for their retail
ASMI isn't going it alone. There are hosts of marketing
programs in Alaska, some of which benefit from legislation that
provides a mechanism to fund regional seafood-development
associations. The groups trumpet, for instance, Arctic Keta
chum or Kenai Wild sockeye from the Kenai Peninsula and Cook
And then there's Copper River, which has come to symbolize
the unofficial kickoff of Alaska's summer salmon harvest,
setting off a frenzy of "We've-got-'em-first" proclamations and
The first batch of Copper River salmon to reach Seattle this
year commanded nearly $37 per pound at one national supermarket
chain, while a local retailer had kings listed at $36.99 and
sockeyes at $28.99. (One retail-wholesale outlet in Ohio
offered kings at a stratospheric $38.95 a pound.)
As fish from other rivers became available, however, prices
eased. In early July on the Internet, Pike Place Fish Market in
Seattle was selling Copper River king fillets for $19.99 a
pound and 2-pound steaks for $36 each. Copper River sockeye,
meanwhile, were $39.99 for whole fish - each at least 6 pounds
- down from $54 apiece in late June.
Yukon River salmon, prized for the 30-plus-percent oil
content that helps fuel their 2,000-mile journey upriver across
remote northern Alaska, are another big-ticket item.
Early last month, Adam Newton, executive chef at the
Oceanaire restaurant in Atlanta, was looking forward to
receiving his first shipment this season of Yukon kings, which
he planned to price in the $35 to $40 range for an entrée.
"We'll see what they come in at, and what the yield is,"
Tony Webber, president of Pescamax in Seattle, says the king
harvest is off to a good start. Pescamax is the North American
sales-and-marketing partner for Kwik'pak Fisheries, a nonprofit
producer of fresh, frozen and smoked Yukon salmon.
"And there's been a plethora of chums so far this year,
too," Webber notes. "As a result, we've found some new inroads
into mid- to high-end foodservice and retail."
In early July, prices for Yukon kings were in the $8.15 to
$8.50 range per pound, f.o.b. Anchorage, up $1 to $1.15 per
pound from 2005, Webber says.
"But," he adds, "the costs are higher than last year, so
it's all relative."
Still, sourcing from the Yukon is not for everybody.
Peter Edison, VP of Ocean Crystal Seafood in Los Angeles,
says Yukon kings are "a fantastic fish." His customers, who
purchase high-quality troll- and gillnet-caught salmon from
other areas of Alaska and Canada, nonetheless aren't really
"The price is a premium to the market, and it probably
warrants it, but our customers aren't looking for that," Edison
Wild salmon's high value - often three or four times the
price of farmed salmon - is especially noteworthy in light of a
recent exposé in the August issue of Consumer Reports
describing a "salmon scam."
CR representatives, who bought 23 supposedly wild salmon
fillets last November, December and March from grocery stores
and fish markets in five states, found that only 10 were
wild-caught. [See Newsline this issue, page 6] The rest of the
fish were farm-raised (determined by testing them for synthetic
coloring agents used in aquaculture).
The magazine, which did not reveal the store names or
locations, paid an average of $6.31 a pound for salmon that was
correctly labeled as farmed, compared with $12.80 for properly
marked wild salmon. The most costly was the farmed salmon
listed as wild, with an average price of $15.62 a pound.
West Coast blues
Alaska isn't the only domestic source of wild salmon;
California, Oregon and Washington are also in the game. But,
given the drastic fishing restrictions this season to protect
dwindling stocks in the Klamath River - which flows from Oregon
through northern California - the king harvest is at its lowest
Indeed, the Pacific Fishery Management Council estimates
the ex-vessel value of this year's fishery will drop by 67
percent. The PFMC says commercial salmon landings last year
were worth $23 million in California and $13 million in
"It's having a huge financial impact that
ripples not only
from the fishermen, but all the way through the communities:
the receivers, the wholesalers, on through the retailers," says
David Goldenberg, CEO of the California Salmon Council in
Folsom. "It hurts everybody."
Last month, spurred by an intense lobbying effort, U.S.
Secretary of Commerce Carlos M. Gutierrez declared a
fishery-resource disaster to help West Coast fishing
communities impacted by the season's virtual shutdown.
The declaration, which opens the door for the Small Business
Administration to provide low-interest loans, "will pave the
way for relief to our fisherman, their families and their
communities," Gutierrez said in a news release.
At Carvalho Fisheries in McKinleyville, Calif., king salmon
represented about 20 percent of the company's revenue three
years ago. This year, it will be less than 1 percent.
"When we saw the allocation and the zones, I told my [team]
that we will be money ahead to not tool up at all for salmon,"
says owner Bill Carvalho.
He notes that it's the first time in eight years the company
hasn't participated in the fishery.
Carvalho Fisheries will continue to offer canned salmon from
its online store - six 7.5-ounce cans were priced at $41.25 in
mid-July - but will soon switch to frozen Alaska kings rather
than West Coast fish.
"We have a great partner in Alaska, and we'll just tell them
what we need," Carvalho says. "But we probably won't do more
than a truckload. The canned market is pretty finite for
West Coast restaurants also are looking north to Alaska. In
early July, the seafood-focused Farallon restaurant in San
Francisco was menuing grilled Alaska king salmon for $36,
served with gold potato puree, hen of the woods mushrooms,
smoked bacon and beurre rouge.
But Farallon's executive chef, Parke Ulrich, earlier told
the San Francisco Chronicle that patrons would miss California
"It's one of the great local products," he said. "Tourists
see all the water and ask, 'Where is all the local fish?'"
Still, with at least some regional product available and
Alaska's season moving into high gear, wild salmon remain a
must-have up and down the coast.
"We're always [excited] about the different runs," says
McLachlan of Salty's. "And we feature the best salmon we can
Find other SeaFood Business articles with wild salmon here.Contributing Editor Rick Ramseyer lives in Cumberland,