Another win for farmed salmon

Atlantic fish sell fast at Alaska-owned store

Posted: Sunday, January 14, 2001

Alaskan & Proud is stocking farm-raised Atlantic salmon to meet local demand for fresh fish during the winter and to compete with national outlets offering the controversial product.

All but a couple of roughly 100 1.5-pound filet packages stocked Wednesday at A&P had sold by noon Saturday.

For Tim Wolfe, co-manager of A&P's meat department, the sales confirm the growing acceptance of farm-raised Atlantic salmon, a product carried locally at Costco and Fred Meyer.

Despite A&P's good sales of the farmed salmon, not everyone is happy it appeared on the shelves of a store that - unlike Costco and Fred Meyer - isn't a nationally-owned chain.

"I was horrified," said Paula Terrel, program director of the Alaska Marine Conservation Council's Southeast office. Terrel called it a "slap in the face" to Southeast fishermen.

The council, whose board is almost all commercial fishermen, opposes salmon farming, which is illegal in Alaska. Terrel said farming is bad for native fish because of the possible spread of disease to wild stocks, use of antibiotics in farmed fish and algae blooms that result from concentrating the fish in one area.

However, farm-raised Atlantic salmon provide restaurants and supermarkets with a steady supply of uniform-sized fish year-round. The salmon have a wider muscle grain and are reported to be milder in flavor than wild Alaska salmon. They have gained a significant share of the fresh salmon market.

A worldwide glut of farmed salmon has lowered prices for the product and in turn lowered prices for wild Alaska salmon, according to Laura Fleming, spokeswoman for the Alaska Salmon Marketing Institute.

Wolfe said this is the first time in many years A&P has carried farmed salmon. He recalled a shipment of Atlantic salmon brought in around 1985 that wasn't received too well. Since then, it's either been Alaska salmon or nothing, he said.

During the lean winter months of December through February, that more often than not meant nothing, Wolfe said.

"I need something fresh at the counter," he said Saturday morning. "The availability (of fresh Alaska salmon) just isn't there for me."

Wolfe brought in the Atlantic salmon as a test, at least until the supply of Alaska salmon increases and becomes less expensive, usually sometime in March, he said.

The farmed fish have proven popular at Costco.

"We do sell quite a lot of it," said Tim Barnes, assistant warehouse manager for Costco.

Nationally, farmed salmon is one of the warehouse-food chain's most popular items, Barnes said. The local store would buy local product if it was available for a good price and a steady supply, but that isn't the case, he said.

"Right now, there is very little fresh on the market," said Joe Gulley, one of Safeway/Carrs two Alaska district managers. The chain, which Gulley claimed is the largest domestic buyer of Alaska seafood, tries to carry Alaska salmon exclusively in its Alaska stores, including one in Juneau, he said.

Gulley said he can't remember the last time any Safeway store, or Carrs store since Safeway bought the chain, carried farmed salmon in Alaska.

Troll-caught king salmon, about the only fresh wild salmon available during the winter and mainly caught in Southeast Alaska, is a premium product that is most often shipped to "white tablecloth restaurants" or high-end supermarkets, said Fleming, the spokeswoman for the Alaska seafood marketing organization.

Locally, Super Bear and Carrs carry troll-caught king salmon. Super Bear's troll-caught salmon prices are a dollar more per pound than the Atlantics at A&P.

For most Outside consumers, a salmon is a salmon with no differentiation between pink and king, Atlantic or Pacific, wild or farmed, fresh or frozen, said Fleming.

Alaskans tend to be a little more of salmon snobs, knowing the difference, Fleming said. But it may just be the salmon snob in us that helps farmed fish to sell. As one customer picking up a package of the Atlantic salmon told Wolfe Saturday morning, she doesn't buy frozen fish because freezing takes away from the flavor.

Mike Hinman can be reached at mhinman@juneauempire.com.



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