We’re a bit biased, but the science isn’t—wild fish is wildly better than farm-raised fish, for you and the ocean. In this edition of The Catch, Sitka Salmon Shares fisherman, Tamara Kyle, discusses why.
There are two full-service grocery stores in Sitka, Alaska, population 8,500. “There’s one called Sea Mart that’s by the sea and one called Lakeside that’s by the lake,” explains Tamara Kyle, a Sitka Salmon Shares commercial fisherman since 2018. Alaskans are practical, straight-talking people.
Tamara goes by Tam and she’s a mother of young ones, ages two and four. She and her husband Frank are both locals from Sitka and fish year-round. Tam is a second-generation fisherman and was raised on a commercial fishing vessel. “I was brought up eating the food I now sell.” She was homeschooled and “my mom used to pressure-can the fish we just caught on the boat’s cookstove but that’s something I wouldn’t recommend doing anymore!” she said, with her signature smile. “We ate really well."
About ten years ago, Tam shifted her food buying preferences towards organics and pastured raised meats and dairy because of health reasons and her family’s dietary restrictions. “I don’t feel comfortable putting unnatural things in my body and finding a source of healthy foods living in rural Alaska can be a challenge.” This is not snobbery nor food-shaming on Tam’s part. Having been raised on fresh, wild-caught Alaskan seafood, it’s in her bones, it’s her lineage. When that’s what you grow up on, it’s innate. “I don’t know what I would ever do if I didn’t have the ability to feed my family this food.”
Not all seafood is the same for a myriad of reasons. Labels, at this juncture, won’t help inform the consumer much due to weak regulatory requirements on disclosing attributes like farmed or wild, as well as origin. But Tam can discern the difference between farmed finfish, wild caught fish and even Sitka Salmon Shares’ wild-caught fish, “which is even more subtle and important. It’s in the delivery,” she explains. “As fishermen for Sitka Salmon Shares, we have to deliver our catch in total freshness. So that even sets a filet of Salmon Shares’ fish apart from a lot of other wild salmon that’s on the market, much less farmed salmon, something that’s been colored with unnatural dyes.”
There are comparisons to be made between industrial-sized finfish aquaculture and livestock operations called centralized animal feed operations, or CAFOs. Farming finfish at a large scale requires substantial chemical inputs just like farming livestock at the industrial level requires. In aquaculture, “chemicals such as antibiotics, antifoulants and pesticides, or the use of banned chemicals can have unintended consequences for marine organisms and human health,” reports the World Wildlife Fund.
Nutrient pollution is another common concern between these two large-scale systems of raising protein, fish and livestock. In aquaculture, excess food and fish waste increase the levels of nutrients in the water. This can lead to disturbing the flora and fauna of the ocean floor that may lead to a loss of biodiversity. It can also have the potential to lead to oxygen-deprived waters that stress aquatic life. Similarly, CAFOs release nutrients into soils and waterways from inputs such as phosphorus and nitrogen (fertilizers), which may also contain cleaning agents, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and hormones from animal waste.
Sitka Salmon Shares’ Chief Fisheries Officer, Kelly Harrell, puts it straight, Alaskan-style: “The fish our fishermen harvest are living wild and free; roaming the open ocean, feeding, foraging, defending themselves, and working to sustain future fish populations.” Kelly has the remarkable ability to keep her focus on the details of getting fish responsibly to our members, as well as holding the greater truths and realities of wild, commercial fisheries in her sights. “Humans are part of the ecosystem, we are the biggest predators in the food chain, so we’re always talking about human impacts and activities. We continue to try to do our best on the human side of the equation in terms of the livelihoods of our small-scale owner/operator fishermen, the food chain workers, and fishing impacts on the ocean.”
The fish our fishermen harvest are living wild and free; roaming the open ocean, feeding, foraging, defending themselves, and working to sustain future fish populations.- Kelly Harrell
As for Tam, who consistently clarifies that while she’s not a scientist, “farmed salmon coloring and texture are off and the marbling is weirdly uniform. The flavor isn’t bad but to me, it doesn’t have that delicious rich fat, probably because it isn’t eating the richness of the ocean ecosystem but because farmed fish are fed uniform pellets inside a net.”
Tam is clear about how not everyone has this level of food access all the time. “We’re spoiled.” They’ve only ever lived in rural coastal communities, catching and eating wild fish their whole lives. She’s grateful for this community supported fishery (CSF) that supports their livelihood. “I’m super glad that as a person who is part of Sitka Salmon Shares, we’re providing fish that people are desiring, not the sad ones that they’ve seen in the grocery shelves.”
And Tam wouldn’t have it any other way. “Anytime we talk about ever moving our young family from dreary Southeast Alaska (and it can be dreary!) what it comes down to, is that we’d never be able to feed them as well because here we have fish and we have venison.” Venison? That’s a Tam-story for another time.
We’re passionate about bringing this wild source to you, traceable directly to the fishermen. Look for Tam and Frank’s mark on your shares containing salmon this season: the F/V Nona S. They fish out of their home harbor, Eliason, in Sitka, Alaska.
Watch: Go Wild
Aside from the health benefits, science-based management, responsible harvest, and passionate members make "going wild" an easy choice. Heck, sometimes it even feels like the fun choice!
Preparing Your Share
Don't forget to try this month's recipes and cooking tips!
Premium Sitka Seafood Share
Sitka Seafood Share
Taste of Summer Share
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What's your approach to "going wild?" Let us know in the comments below!