by Randy Hartnell
We last offered rare, reefnet Pink Salmon in 2005 ... and customers responded with rave reviews, regretting only the limited supply of this uncommon treat.
The lucky ones who snared some then have awaited its biennial return impatiently ... poised to pounce on as many portions as possible!
Reefnetting is an ancient, environmentally superior fishing method that produces the highest quality fish possible. It was developed by Northwest natives, and less than a dozen reefnet rigs, all family-owned, remain in existence.
Our good friend Riley Starks runs one of the few remaining rigs, anchored off Lummi Island ... a green jewel in the San Juan chain, located just a brief car-and-ferry journey from our home base in Bellingham, Washington.
We're gratified that Riley has again agreed to hand-pick the best of his 2007 Pink Salmon reefnet harvest, exclusively for Vital Choice.
The supply is very limited and there’ll be no more until 2009, because wild Pacific Pink Salmon only return every two years. Don't wait to ensure a share of this rare, savory treat! To order some of our scarce reefnet Pink Salmon, click here.
Rare, sustainable fishery nets premium quality
The fresh-caught quality of Pink Salmon from Riley's reefnet team is the result of a unique fishing method and careful post-harvest handling.
The “Cinderella” of Wild Salmon
Pink Salmon has been under-appreciated because, as the most perishable of all Pacific species, the vast majority ends up in cans. In fact, fresh Pink Salmon is rare.
But our eyes were opened when, a few years back, we conducted a small-boat tour of southeast Alaska.
Our guests included renowned Monterey chef and TV host John Pisto, who suggested a blind taste test of four fresh-caught wild Salmon species: Kings, Sockeye, Silver and Pink.
Given its canned-only image, we all assumed that Pink would come in last, and were shocked to find ourselves deeming Pink Salmon every bit as delicious as its better-known cousins, despite their loftier reputations.
The difference was all in the handling. We’d secured the single Pink Salmon fresh from the net of a friend’s passing purse seiner – a kind of Salmon fishing boat – before it could be crushed in the hold.
As we discovered, fresh Pink Salmon is an overlooked culinary treasure. This “Cinderella” fish is light and lean with an exceptionally delicate texture. It's been called the Pinot Noir of wild Salmon, because, like that fragile grape, Pink Salmon must be pampered to realize its true potential.
Riley’s meticulous reefnetting method is a perfect way to protect and preserve the fragile quality of wild Pink Salmon.
(Illustration by Ted Walke)
Reefnetters take advantage of flood-tide currents that lead migrating Salmon over underwater reefs and into shallow waters.
The gear consists of two small, narrow, stationary rafts with a net suspended underwater between them. Reefnetters wait for the flood tide to bring the harvest, and as Salmon rise up to clear the reef, spotters in the rigs' trademark towers call out for the net to be raised.
Riley and his crew catch only a few Salmon at a time, bleeding and icing the fish immediately upon harvest: a practice rare in commercial fisheries.
We’ve stood on Riley’s anchored rafts as Salmon are netted, bled, and placed into a small net cage suspended in the sea.
This interlude relaxes the fish and allows time for the lactic acid in their muscles to dissipate, ensuring optimal flavor. This interlude relaxes the fish and allows time for the lactic acid in their muscles to dissipate, ensuring optimal flavor. As soon as they're ready, the Salmon are plucked from the sea and placed in insulated totes full of slush ice.
At the end of the day, they're ferried just five minutes to shore and take a quick trip to the plant, where they're cleaned, processed, and flash-frozen to preserve their fresh flavor and delicate texture.
Solar-powered reefnetting: An eco-safe fishery gets even “greener”
Reefnetting is environmentally superior in several ways:
- There's no “by-catch”, because restricted or unwanted species are tossed back, unharmed.
- Lummi’s reefnetters have gone solar! As of the 2007 season, the electric winches used to raise the net are powered by batteries charged with solar panels. The operation already used very little fossil fuel, to charge the electric winches and to power the small tenders that make five-minute round trip to ferry men and fish to and from the barges.
By reducing fossil fuels to even lower, negligible, levels, solar power cements the reputation of Lummi reefnetting as one of the “greenest” and most sustainable fisheries on the planet.
|Riley Starks and Judy Olsen:|
Partners in "green" fishing, farming, and inn-keeping
Our reefnet Pink Salmon comes from Riley Starks, whom I met when we both fished Alaskan waters.
Like Vital Choice, he focuses on quality and sustainablility.
Riley operates one of only 11 known wild Salmon Reefnet rigs in North America, which harvest Salmon bound for Canada’s Fraser River, via Lummi Island.
Riley and his wife Judy Olsen also run the certified-organic Nettles Farm near their home on this lush Island nestled between Vancouver and our facility in Anacortes, WA.
Most recently, Judy and Riley turned an old Lummi lodge into the widely praised Willows Inn, whose menu features organic fare from Nettles Farm, and Reefnet salmon.
If you seek a relaxing, friendly stay among the best the Northwest has to offer, be sure to look them up ... and tell 'em Vital Choice sent you! (For reservations, call 1-888-294-2620.)