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Why We Love Bristol Bay Salmon

For a handful of years, we’ve been able to feature wild sockeye salmon from Bristol Bay, Alaska, on our menu. We smoke it in house and make an incredible seasonal sandwich out of it. That sandwich is delicious, to be sure, but the story behind this special sockeye, one of Alaska’s finest wild fish, is just as satisfying.

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We get our Bristol Bay Salmon from Reid and Eike Ten Kley, whose family operation, Iliamna Fish Co., brings sockeye directly to our kitchens in Portland and Seattle, without a broker or middle man. (They also sell salmon “shares” to folks in Portland, Eugene, Corvallis, Austin, Anchorage, and New York.)

From left, Reid, Eike and Krystal Ten-Kley, whose families have fished Bristol Bay for three generations.

Reid, Eike, and Krystal Ten Kley – third generation fishermen – use small boats and shallow nets to sustainably fish for wild sockeye in Alaksa’s Bristol Bay.

Reid and Eike both come from fishing families. They return each summer to the same Alaskan waters in the Lake Iliamna watershed their families have fished for three generations. They use sustainable fishing methods and vacuum-pack and flash-freeze the deep red sockeye fillets within hours of being caught.

The Iliamna sockeye is ground-transported to our kitchens in Seattle and Portland, which offers a much lower carbon footprint than fresh, air-transported fish.

Deep-red sockeye from Bristol Bay, where wild salmon are abundant and fishing is strictly managed.

Deep-red sockeye from Bristol Bay, where wild salmon are abundant and fishing is strictly managed.

Bristol Bay, Alaska, is home to one of the largest wild salmon populations left. The waters are carefully and strictly managed to prevent over fishing. And the region is thriving: Bristol Bay’s salmon sustains thousands of jobs and brings in hundreds of millions of dollars to the regional economy each year.

But this wild salmon – and the pristine waters of the bay – is threatened by the proposed Pebble Mine, a gargantuan open-pit copper and gold mine. Pebble Mine, if approved, would sit at the bay’s headwaters and pump tons of toxic waste into the environment. (UPDATE, September 2018: The threat to Bristol Bay remains high. The Pebble Mine is currently in the permitting process with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which began Dec. 2017. With most projects of this size and nature, the permitting process is expected to take about three to four years. For the Pebble Project, the Army Corps has released an aggressive permitting schedule that anticipates the final step – the Record of Decision – to be complete within 24 months.)

Which leads us to the importance of that sandwich on our menu: Despite being so delicious, most Bristol Bay salmon ends up in cans or as frozen fillets. Half is exported. When we bring it into our cafes, customers become familiar with it. That raises demand and its profile, and provides economic incentive to protect Bristol Bay’s resources.

So try the sandwich. And spread the word about Bristol Bay.

Want to learn more? Here’s what author Paul Greenburg has to say about why you should eat it to save it.

Here’s a good piece about Pebble Mine.

And here’s a nice Portland Monthly story (with awesome photos) about Iliamna Fish Co., our salmon supplier.