The Year Without Salmon?
It's the number three most popular seafood in this country, but this year salmon may have to sit this one out. It seems that won't be difficult because there are so few to go around.
According to the Pacific Fishery Management Council, a federal agency under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Commerce, 775,000 adult chinook salmon returned to spawn in the Sacramento River valley in central California in 2002. The minimum number to maintain conservation goals is 122,000 - 180,000. This year, the projected run: a mere 58,000. (Check out this graphic from the Sacramento Bee.)
As a result, the PFMC voted last week to cancel this year's chinook salmon season in federal waters off the coast of California and most of Oregon. On May 1, the vote will be reviewed by NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service and will likely be confirmed.
And yesterday, the California state Fish & Game Commission weighed in with a ban on salmon fishing in coastal waters.
The diminishing returns are affecting other salmon-rich areas further north as well, resulting in harvest quotas that will have a dramatic impact on the price of salmon. In Washington state, the state Fish & Gaming Commission announced that the Columbia river run for coho salmon is expected to total about 196,000 fish, nearly 266,000 fewer than last year. As a result, this year's harvest quota will be just a hair more than 20,000.
Salmon lovers can hold out for the prized Alaskan salmon but that too will be limited by a recently announced harvest quota of 170,000 chinook in southeast Alaska, down by 159,000 fish, making it the leanest catch since 2000. (Clarification, April 18: Despite the declining numbers for southeast Alaskan chinook, the total Alaskan salmon harvest is expected to be substantial this year. According to a press release from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the total harvest of all species statewide is projected to be approximately 137 million salmon, "comprised of an estimated contribution of 672,000 Chinook salmon, 47.1 million sockeye salmon, 4.4 million coho salmon, 66 million pink salmon, and 18.7 million chum salmon.")
In Seattle, there's talk in the restaurant community about switching to farmed salmon, but apparently, the salmon farm industry in British Columbia, which sends 85 percent of its supply to the U.S. , will not be able to meet the demand that is expected resulting from the depleted wild stocks.
Salmon lovers, what's your reaction to these dramatic underwater developments? Will you pay the exorbitant price expected this summer at the seafood counter or will you lay off the pink fish? Will you switch to farmed salmon, which is considered environmentally sketchy, or will you use this as opportunity to explore other types of fish and seafood?
As a cook, I am sad about this news, but as a participant in the food chain, I am devastated about the state of our waters. Sustainably farmed mussels, anyone?
P.S.: As mentioned in yesterday's chat, I'm looking for your tips on stretching the weekly food budget, to be featured in a blog post next week. Shopping and cooking tips are both welcome. Please send your stories to: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com with the subject line "Getting Thrifty." Please include your city and state and size of household. My e-mail was on the fritz yesterday, but now it's up and running.
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