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 college.

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 catching 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 are 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 fishing income, began courting tourism, oil and mining industries for economic relief. The tragedy is that the primary culprit was a nutritionally inferior, environmentally destructive imposter: the industrial 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 proactive fishermen friends on trips they were making to grocery stores around the country promoting the many virtues of wild Alaskan salmon.

Over the following months, we served our wild salmon to people in places like Nashville, Boulder, and Kalamazoo, telling 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 salmon habitat and the millions of fish it sustains, and to the dying fishing industry that represented their most committed political ally. 

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 as an Alaskan salmon fisherman and the many close relationships I continue to enjoy with fishers and processors, I know when, where, how and from whom to source the best fish.

That's why I’m confident that, unless you catch it yourself, you will find no better product elsewhere, nor any purveyor more passionately committed to your satisfaction.

I hope you will come to view me as your reliable connection to one of the healthiest, naturally organic foods remaining on earth.

When you choose Vital Choice seafood, 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!

Warm regards,

Randy Hartnell

Founder and President
Vital Choice Wild Seafood & Organics