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Riding the Silver Wave: Durango's Lifeline for Wild-caught Salmon

Ride the Silver

photos courtesy Silver Wave Seafood Co.

Whether you're an Olympic athlete or wizened librarian, you've probably heard that lean protein, like that found in fish, is good for your body. And you also probably know that salmon, in particular, provides one of nature's most prolific sources of omega-3 fatty acids, and all sorts of vitamins and minerals good for the bones, brain, heart, joints, skin, eyes and immune system.

But for most Americans, this shining superfood has a dark cloud looming over it. Over 80-percent of the salmon we eat is farmed, meaning it's more likely to be chockablock full of the bad stuff, and missing much of the good stuff. So unless you're already seeking out and consuming wild-caught salmon, you're unfortunately not reaping all of your salmon's marvelous benefits.   

This is not necessarily your fault, so no judgment. For starters, the fishing industry, in general, is a real head-scratcher. Although the US controls more ocean than any other country, 90-percent of the fish we eat is imported, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service. That is, one-third of the fish caught in the US is frozen and sent to China, where it's defrosted, deboned, processed and refrozen, only to be exported back to the US to be purchased by Americans. Labor is just that much cheaper in Asia to justify shipping costs.

In Alaska, the country's greatest fish-producing state, fisheries export three-quarters of its salmon. So it's kind of a big deal that, as of summer 2017, residents of Southwest Colorado now have a direct line to wild-caught Alaskan salmon. No more wondering if you're supporting a sustainable fishing practice. With Silver Wave Seafood Company, you're savoring the best of Alaska, straight from a refurbished 1967 wooden fishing boat to your table.  

When Durangoan, MJ Carroll, moved to the Pacific Northwest, she didn't know much about fishing. Years before, her brother had tried to teach her how to fly fish in the frigid waters of the San Juan Mountains. But then she met a dreamy fisherman named Eric Macias. The world traveling surfer swept her away with his talk of the midnight sun hovering over the Inside Passage, porpoises surfing the wake of the boat, bears, bald eagles and all things pristine Alaska.

Eric and MJ, photo courtesy Zach Doleac

A marketing consultant by trade, MJ was the perfect fit for Eric. While he busied himself setting up his next endeavor as skipper of a salmon fishing operation in a southeastern Alaska bay near Ketchikan, she put together a sleek marketing plan for a seafood shipping company that would meld his passion for the ocean and her love of the Rocky Mountains. They named it Silver Wave Seafood Company after Eric's fishing vessel, the Silver Wave.

The F/V Silver Wave refers to the annual wave created when a large shoal of Coho salmon (also known as 'silvers') swims in unison churning up a silver wave. Eric uses an aluminum skiff named the Silver Surfer to help direct the boat's net to bring in the catch.

The catch, which is a mix of Coho and Sockeye salmon, is then taken to shore where it's processed, filleted, vacuum-sealed and frozen - once - before being loaded onto a Seattle-bound barge. Freezing the fish instantly keeps the water inside the fish tissues, thus preserving juices and maximizing flavor and texture when thawed and cooked, says MJ.

In Seattle, the bounty is then transferred by truck to Salt Lake City, where MJ picks it up and brings it back to Durango.

Eric spends three months a year - June through August - chasing this silver wave. MJ says salmon fishermen work more in this window than most people do in a whole year of full-time, nine-to-five work. This is his 10th season salmon fishing in Alaska, and 5th season as a Southeast Alaska permit holder - a feat in and of itself.

photo courtesy Silver Wave Seafood Co.

"Once you get in [with a permit], you work your butt off for many years before you make a profit," explains MJ.

When the fishing season is wrapped up, Eric dons his other professional hat as a carpenter. The variety is a good fit for the Alaska- and Hawaii-raised military kid. For the first time in his life, Eric will call Durango home this next off-season when he joins MJ here in September.

So how does it work, this boat-to-table concept? Inspired by the structure of community-supported agriculture, Silver Wave Seafood Company is built on community-supported seafood shares. Shareholders have the option of purchasing 10, 15, 25 and 50-pound shares, ranging in price from $12 to $14 a pound. The breakdown looks like this:

10-lb: $155

15-lb: $220

25-lb: $330

50-lb: $600

Obviously, the larger the share, the cheaper the salmon is per pound. For bargain shoppers, the price is comparable to, if not cheaper than, other wild-caught Coho and Sockeye salmon sales in town. One pound roughly equals two meals, so Silver Wave shares can be bought individually or, for folks with shallow pockets or not that much freezer space, with friends and family.

"I'm all about sharing the share," says MJ. "Get your neighbors together, or book club, coworkers, whoever, and buy the big share."

No need to worry if the share is too big; if kept frozen, the salmon stays fresh for a whole year, so you can buy it once at the end of the summer season and enjoy it till the next shipment arrives the following September.

Besides the 50/50 mix of Coho and Sockeye frozen filets, Silver Wave is also offering smoked, canned salmon for $13.50 each, or five cans for $50. In the Pacific Northwest, MJ likens the delicacy to beef jerky for backcountry skiing or tailgating after a big ride. This nutritiously-delicious alternative to jerky is stand-alone goodness, or pairs well with crackers, cheeses, cold beer and wine.

photo courtesy Silver Wave Seafood Co.

Regarding tastiest ways to prepare the filets, MJ says the simpler, the better. A little salt and pepper and olive oil or butter before grilling or baking should do it. For those looking to dress it up a little more, MJ recommends this classic Southwestern-inspired recipe: rub the salmon with red or green chili; after baking or grilling it, drizzle agave nectar on the top for an explosion of spicy-sweet flavors.

Not only is your mouth watering, but you should also sleep a little better knowing that you're supporting a local fisherman, and thus a healthier side of the fishing industry.

"Salmon fishing is such a heritage," says MJ. "Alaska is so bountiful in its natural resources, but it takes a lot of sustainability and intelligence to manage something as bountiful as that, and still have it be profitable year after year."

MJ credits the generations of Alaskan native fishermen who have come before Eric and the Silver Wave with their ability to respect the salmon runs as time goes by. These Alaska fisheries are examples of how we can be sustainable and respectful, and still be economical.

This year's deadline to order is August 25th. Click here to make your next really good decision of the day. Pickup your shares at the Office Depot parking lot towards the end of September. Home delivery options available for a fee. Bon appetit!

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