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Salmon Season Update: How to Talk to Bay Area Customers About California King Salmon

Local wild king salmon is highly sought after, but a number of factors have made it expensive and hard to find. Image source: Flickr CC user pui wong {as*q}

The king (also called Chinook) salmon is not California’s state fish (that’s the golden trout) but it ought to be because of its popularity. Fans of the fish like me have great memories of fresh king salmon filets on the grill or reeling in one of the beauties on a party boat off the coast. The season is something I look forward to all year.

But in recent years this seasonal delicacy has become a special occasion fish instead of a kitchen mainstay because of spotty availability, fishery closures, and its often high price. You might remember how, in 2008 and 2009, there was no season at all due to a state closure aimed at helping the fish’s population recover. That’s a frustrating situation for customers and vendors alike.

So what can you tell your customers about this year’s salmon season when they ask why prices remain so high or why there is often no local salmon?

The king (also called Chinook) salmon is not California’s state fish (that’s the golden trout) but it ought to be because of its popularity. Fans of the fish like me have great memories of fresh king salmon filets on the grill or reeling in one of the beauties on a party boat off the coast. The season is something I look forward to all year.

But in recent years this seasonal delicacy has become a special occasion fish instead of a kitchen mainstay because of spotty availability, fishery closures, and its often high price. You might remember how, in 2008 and 2009, there was no season at all due to a state closure aimed at helping the fish’s population recover. That’s a frustrating situation for customers and vendors alike.

So what can you tell your customers about this year’s salmon season when they ask why prices remain so high or why there is often no local salmon?

What Happened?

To be blunt, customers looking for locally caught salmon are going to be disappointed. California-caught salmon simply isn’t as abundant as it once was. There’s no one culprit for the situation, but warmer ocean temperatures, years of drought, and water diversion from rivers for agriculture and municipal drinking water are the primary causes of the decline.

Why Is Salmon So Expensive?

So what’s with the price hike? Well, fewer fish means there are fewer fishermen. And vice-versa. At one time there were nearly 11,000 commercial salmon permits in California. Today there are about 250. And this year many of those 250 permit holders turned to fishing for Dungeness crab where they thought they could make more money, a grim state affairs given how hard hit the crab fishery was after last year’s closure

As a result of these low numbers, this spring state regulators shortened the state’s salmon season dramatically. The season started in May, ran for 2½ weeks in June, most of August and will run all through September and a few days in October. That makes California salmon scarce. Is it any wonder there isn’t a lot of California salmon on the market and it fetches a high price? Prices will fluctuate a bit over the course of the season, but for the most part the price will stay high because of scarcity and consumer demand for local king salmon.

Since the season isn’t lengthy and is often shortened further by the state to help boost the population, it’s worth encouraging customers to freeze king salmon for later when it is available. You can also offer customers flash frozen king salmon. It’s a tasty, lower priced option.

Other Sources?

Of course king salmon is also available from Alaskan waters, where rivers don’t face the same pressures from agriculture and thirsty metropolises as in California. As a vendor you probably know that Californians love salmon from their local waters, but there is no difference in quality between Alaskan and Californian Chinook. Freshness and sustainability are the most important criteria. Because of the fragility of the salmon fishery, Alaska is highly regulated and most of the salmon that comes to market is responsibly sourced. The Alaskan fishery first earned Marine Stewardship Council certification in 2000 and has been re-certified twice. That may be cold comfort for a customers who wants California salmon, but let them know them that eating Alaskan king salmon now and then is a good way to take some of the pressure off California populations.

Some Good News

It’s easy to despair for the golden days of king salmon, but fisheries do come back. Rockfish, cod, and swordfish are great examples of this. Supporting the fishermen who are doing the right thing is the best way to help them and the fish we all love, no matter whether those fish are from California or further north. Pucci Foods can provide you with incredibly fresh or flash frozen king salmon that is sustainably fished and minimally handled. Contact us to provide your customers with top quality, responsibly sourced king salmon.

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