This has got to be one of the hardest posts for me to write and I’ve been putting it off for so long. I’ve been going back and forth on what the right thing to do is. In the end, I decided this was it…
There is a company in Northern California that has a very prominent position in the retail wild caught seafood portions of a great number of farmers markets that is selling farmed salmon as wild caught. I’m not going to reveal which company, nor will I tell you which markets, but I will ask you to do your due diligence when deciding to buy wild caught King salmon from any source.
We’ve been watching these guys for several years now and have let it be. They don’t operate at any of the markets we participate in. They have however been getting closer and closer to us, and have stepped into some of the markets that we used to do.
As they get closer, we’ve had some crossover in customers. We finally reached our boiling point when a customer came to us in March and asked us why we didn’t have fresh wild King like the vendor at another area market. My response to that customer was that the fish that the other vendor was selling had to be frozen, because there isn’t a wild salmon fishery anywhere in the world that is open in March. I explained to the customer that she must have been confused and that it was frozen. She insisted she was a trained chef and that she could tell the difference between fresh and frozen fish.
We decided to check this company’s website, and sure enough, they had fresh King Salmon listed as available. I was seriously confused as I couldn’t figure out how they were selling fresh wild King Salmon.
We let it go for months but then heard from another customer that was upset with our pricing. They said they had been buying fresh wild King Salmon for a fraction of the price at one of the other farmers markets in the area. Being a commercial salmon fishermen in California and knowing the current state of the market, I know that nobody could compete with our pricing and it was time for some more research. Laura and I decided to spend the day going to some of the markets where this company operated.
What we found next was absolutely appalling. As we approached the booth at the first location, we saw what appeared to be a textbook copy of The Little Fish Company. The booth was set up exactly the same, a whiteboard showing the “All Wild Caught” verbiage in bold letters. Wild smoked salmon, fresh wild King salmon, poke, salmon spread, etc. It was an exact copy of everything we worked so hard to build. But what happened next had me and the entire commercial fishing community outraged.
The man at the booth didn’t know who we were, so we decided to ask some questions. First up we showed enthusiasm and asked “how did you catch them”? The man said that he didn’t personally catch them but his family did. They were wild King caught in the ocean up in Alaska just a few days earlier. They used salmon traps to catch them and then they fly them down. First of all, there is no such thing as a salmon trap. Lol. I didn’t tell him that though. The only method for catching salmon in the ocean is trolling. Oh, and by the way, Alaska wasn’t open for commercial salmon yet. That opener was scheduled for weeks later.
Then we told him that we bought from a guy in Auburn. He said “Oh, Little Fish, we know them. I don’t want to say anything bad but, their stuff is usually a week old, our is just caught a few days before”. Laura claims that she could see the veins pulsing in my neck, but I did my best not to jump over the table and punch him in the throat. I then asked him why he was so much cheaper than Little Fish and he said because his company catches all their own fish and Little Fish just buys from a seafood company somewhere. At this point, I’m thinking about our two boats down in the city and all the work me and the crew have to do the next day. I’m also thinking about my friends who I’ve watched lose everything and I’m on the verge of losing my mind.
Laura snaps me back to reality by showing me a price that says $21.95 per pound for their wild…trap caught…out of season…King Salmon. As I look at the piece of fish, it hits me that this is a farmed King salmon. It’s plain as day for the trained eye as the fat lines are thick and unnatural. Check the two out side by side if you can find a location that has both farmed and wild. I couldn’t take anymore so I said “well I’ll just have to try one” knowing that the piece of fish that we just purchased was going straight to the lab to be tested for authenticity. As it turns out, this company is selling a farmed product purchased from another country as wild.
Here we are, as commercial fishermen, risking our lives daily in the rough waters of Northern California to bring in these beautiful wild caught specimens, and somebody has the audacity to buy foreign farmed fish and sell it under false pretenses by representing it as the same product? I could not believe it. I think about what we do. What other boats that catch salmon for us do. The lives that are lost every year. The families torn apart by a collapsing fishery. And the $35 price tag that were being forced to put on wild King as a result, and it disgusts me that somebody would represent themselves as living that hell all the while handing the customer a farmed piece of fish at the same time.
The final factor resulting in this email occurred just hours ago. My deckhand and I were sitting eating a burger at the Sea Pal in Ft. Bragg ( our ritual before leaving for the Ft. Bragg salmon opener the next day). I overheard a customer asking a waitress where they can get fresh local fish. Sadly her response was “nowhere right now”. I asked them where they were from and they told me the Sacramento area. I told them I was a commercial fisherman and that I bring my catch there every week. They got all excited and said they already buy my fish. I asked which location. When she told me, I said that was not me. It in fact was the other guy. She was furious when I told her that she had been duped.
It’s not my responsibility to be the governing body for corruption, and for that reason I will not be outing the company or the farmers market organizations that allow these people to operate. But I will advise you to be informed and cautious when you buy seafood. Do your due diligence. I can also tell you that if you’re not paying over $30 per pound for King salmon right now, it is FARMED! There isn’t a boat out there that is going to sell wild King to a person at a price that would allow them to retail it for less than that. It’s a commodity much like gold. The value fluctuates, but at any given time, there is an exact value that represents the going rate to the boat. Nobody is selling gold for less than market value, and nobody is selling salmon for less either.
In addition to price, check your fat lines. There will always be some fat lines in the belly of the fillet, but when you get the thick white fat lines in the back of the fillet, be concerned. Get online and YouTube how to tell the difference.
Know your seasons. There are times of the year when fresh King salmon isn’t available anywhere in the world. As a matter of fact, there are more months when it’s not available than when it is. This is the reason we sell frozen King for most of the year.
If you use to buy from us, but now you’re buying from another vendor in the same general areas that we operate or have operated, be concerned. The closest legit fishermen I know of sell at Davis, Berkeley (Hudson Fish), Chico, Santa Rosa (Princess) and San Francisco. If you’re not buying from us or one of those, you better be doing some research.
It’s sad that people out there are doing this. We’ve known that we should be cautious about restaurants and grocery stores for years. It’s for these reasons that we shop at our local farmers markets, but it appears these too have now been infiltrated with corruption.
We don’t make any claims at The Little Fish Company that we catch everything we sell. That would be impossible. But we do actively catch salmon, rock cod, crab, albacore, black cod, ling cod and halibut. If we do sell you something that we didn’t catch, we know where it’s coming from and you have our promise as a hardworking fishing family that it wasn’t raised in a pen and fed a bunch of crap, but swam the open waters of the sea until the time it bit the hook.