Curating a Sustainable Salmon Program

Learn about the delicious source for our year-round salmon program.

Cooked salmon

Delicious, easy to cook, and packed with nutrition, it’s easily our most popular fish year-round. We spoke with Head Retail Buyer, Chili Montes, to learn about the different species of salmon you can find at the Markets, his approach to curating a sustainable seafood assortment, and why our frozen salmon is the best in San Francisco.

We stopped selling farmed salmon approximately 10 years ago. Can you share more about that decision?

Since we reopened in 1998, salmon has been one of top selling items, and guests were happy with the farmed salmon we’d been offering. But new information became available about the state of farmed salmon and its negative impact on the environment, so we made the necessary decision to stop selling it. While we haven’t looked back, the farmed salmon industry has made enormous advancements in the past decade, specifically as it relates to environmental impact. I could see us bringing it back at some point, but only when specific criteria is met and we’ve seen the operation firsthand. Today, our program is comprised of two different species of wild salmon: Coho and King. 

There are so many different species of salmon, what’s the difference between them?

There are five main species of salmon on the West Coast: King, Coho, Chum, Pink, and Sockeye. Chums, Pinks, and Sockeye are the most abundant of the species, and primarily used for canning or smoking. King and Coho are much more limited in availability and are highly prized for their flavor. In general, their fat content and size dictate desirability, and price. We find we’re able to offer the best of both worlds by selling Coho and King in our seafood case. Coho has rich, reddish-orange meat with incredible flavor. With the lower fat content, adult Coho salmon are between 7-8 pounds. King salmon, also known as Chinook, is the largest species of Pacific salmon (think 11-18 pounds), and has an unparalleled flavor. Its season runs from April to September, and after a light past few years, 2019 is turning out to be a record year.

Where do we source our wild salmon from? How can we offer wild salmon all year?  

We’re able to source sustainable, frozen-at-sea Coho year-round through our relationship with Triad Fisheries. The quality of this fish is incredibly unique. Freezing it at sea (rather than several days after catch) makes it some of the freshest and highest quality salmon I’ve ever experienced. Our fresh King salmon comes straight from local boats that fish just off the coast, from Fort Bragg to Monterey Bay, so it’s only available during the season.

“Frozen fish” often has a negative connotation. Tell us more about what sets “frozen-at-sea” fish apart and why we work with Triad Fisheries?

Triad Fisheries pioneered the process of “frozen-at-sea” and it all started with Bruce Gore. Gore is an Alaskan fisherman who recognized the need for finding a better way to bring salmon to market. So he created a process where salmon are broken down and frozen within minutes of being caught on the open ocean. Working with a fleet of independent fishermen contracted directly to him, Gore proved that he could build a thriving, modern business in a traditional fishing community. While “frozen-at-sea” is not a regulated term, it is a clear differentiator and you can’t find fresher salmon than “frozen-at-sea” salmon from Triad Fisheries.

What resources exist for people interested in learning more about sustainable seafood, and producers like Triad Fisheries?

Triad Fisheries has tons of detailed information about their salmon program on their website. For information about the seafood industry as a whole, Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch is an excellent resource for people looking to make ocean-friendly choices when selecting seafood. We use Seafood Watch as a guide for the entire category at Bi-Rite, and are always happy to chat with guests in the Markets.

Now, when it comes to eating wild salmon, what’s your favorite way to prepare it?

Slow baking salmon in a low oven (275 degrees) is a great way to enjoy wild salmon. I like to brush fillets with a little olive oil and top it with a mixture of thyme and lemon zest. Season generously with salt and pepper and then bake until opaque in the center, roughly 15-18 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fillets.

Have questions about Bi-Rite’s Salmon Program and Triad Fisheries? Send us a DM on Instagram at @biritesf.

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