Salmon sandwiches would solve the glut

Posted: Friday, March 28, 2003

I am looking at a one-pound can of pink salmon, which I bought at Alaskan & Proud for $2.45. Herein lies the focus for many of the problems of the Alaskan salmon fishery. But there is a simple solution. If only all the households in America would go out and buy a single can, the pink salmon problem would be over, and all at once 50 million pounds, or thereabouts, would be used up in one day.

On the WaterfrontBy Elton Engstrom

On the basis of a large case of 48 cans, that would translate into the sale of about a million cases. Heck, we only produce 3 to 4 million cases a year, so obviously, consumption would be the answer to the problem.

Pink salmon should be the sandwich of choice for everyone's household, but, according to Eric Norman of Taku Seafoods in Juneau, our competition is tuna. He adds that everything starts with good quality.

Since the pink salmon is the smallest of the five Pacific salmon, and is almost like a trout in the delicate texture of the flesh, there has to be great care used in processing the finished product. Norman says that we can't wait three or four or five days to freeze or can, even if the fish is held in slush ice. We need to process the pinks within one or at most two days after they are caught. In the meantime, they must be held in a chilled environment. Rough handling that bruises and discolors the flesh also must be avoided. In other words, we need to beat tuna.

Now comes the test. I am prepared to open my can bought at Alaskan & Proud. The label on the can is Bumble Bee. It says Premium Quality, Alaska Pink Salmon.

Ah, it's open and I try some on several crackers. It's good, and it has the great advantage over tuna and any farm-raised salmon, in that it has taste. It tastes like salmon. Tuna only tastes like the oil it is bathed in by the processors, and farm-raised salmon has no taste at all, since the fish are raised on pellet food. The color is a pale pink, in contrast to the bright red of a can of sockeye. But if you mix it with a little tartar sauce, it makes a fine spread for sandwiches. Come on, Juneau, let's start to end the salmon glut. The next time you go to the supermarket, try a can of pink salmon.

Scott McAllister of Juneau fishes for pink salmon as a seiner for Wrangell Seafoods. He believes the most important element in all the salmon fisheries of Alaska is canned salmon. But he says we need a strong advertising program to persuade the American consumer to use it. McAllister added that the fishermen and processors have started a program to process the fish right after it is caught in order to increase the quality of the canned product. The canneries have set delivery schedules to coincide with production capabilities. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has helped by stretching the season to four days fishing and one day off, from the old style of two days on and two days off, which tended to pile up the salmon, in excess of cannery capacity. McAllister also loves to eat canned pink salmon.

There is another treat for the pink salmon connoisseur. The Scandinavians of my father's generation loved to cut out the bellies of bright, fresh pinks, and boil them with potatoes. Hmm.

Elton Engstrom is a lifelong Alaskan, retired fish-buyer, lawyer and legislator (1964-70) who lives in Juneau. He can be reached at 586-1655.

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