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The Origins of Vital Choice: A Letter from Randy Hartnell


I’m Randy Hartnell, founder of Vital Choice Seafood. My relationship with wild salmon first began more than 30 years ago when I went to Alaska and landed a summer job on a fishing boat to finance my way through UC Berkeley.

By the time I finished school several years later, these summer sojourns had become much more than a job. Fishing in Alaska had become a part of me.

Rather than continuing on to grad school as planned, I bought a boat and spent the next twenty summers riding twenty-foot tides and becoming intimately familiar with the wild sockeye salmon.

Every season on the water was a deeply satisfying immersion in nature accompanied by long days, hard work, close friends, plentiful salmon and fruitful wages for the labor of harvesting them.

But in the late 1990s, things began to change. Large scale industrial salmon farming began to carve its way into the traditional markets for our fish with devastating results.

Thousands of independent fishermen who had for decades relied upon the annual salmon harvest to support their families were unable to carry on.

Alaskan salmon were (and remain) an abundant renewable resource and one of the finest natural foods left on earth, yet markets for our fish crashed and the value of our boats and other related assets followed. A healthy, productive and cherished way of life for thousands was decimated.

Out of desperation, coastal fishing communities, stripped of their revenue base, began courting the tourism, oil and mining industries for economic relief. The tragedy is that the primary culprit was a nutritionally inferior, environmentally destructive imposter: the factory-farmed salmon

During those dark days I came to realize that the best hope for resurrecting our industry was in educating consumers about the profound differences between wild salmon and its distant farmed-raised cousin.

In 2000, after returning from Alaska with empty pockets, I was invited to join a proactive fisherman friend on trips he was making to grocery stores around the country promoting the many virtues of wild Alaskan salmon.

Over the following months, we served our Alaskan sockeye salmon to people in places like Nashville, Boulder, and Kalamazoo, and told our story to anyone who would listen.

We told people about the far-reaching consequences of their choice in salmon—to their own well-being, to the environment, to the wild salmon resource, and to the dying industry that had been its strongest political advocate.

And we were delighted to find extremely receptive audiences everywhere we went. It was during this time that Vital Choice Seafood was conceived.

Because wild salmon is such a fundamentally good food, the Vital Choice formula is simple: bring benefit to both our producers and customers by procuring the very best fish and delivering them in prime condition at a fair price.

As a result of my many years in the Alaskan salmon industry and the many close relationships I continue to enjoy with fishers and processors, I know when, where, how and from whom to procure the best fish.

I’m confident you will find no purveyor more passionate about his product or more committed to your satisfaction.

And I hope you will come to view me as your reliable connection to one of the healthiest and naturally organic foods remaining on earth. (Strangely, U.S. law does not allow retailers to label wild fish “organic”!)

When you choose sustainably harvested wild salmon, you are choosing much more than just a fine meal. You are promoting your health, the health of coastal fishing communities, the environment and the precious wild salmon it sustains.

In short, you really are making a vital choice!

Best regards,
Randy Hartnell

Founder and President
Vital Choice Wild Seafood & Organics


Randy Hartnell