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Skuna Bay Salmon Comes To Chicago

By Amy Cavanaugh in Food on Apr 8, 2012 4:00PM

2012_04_07_salmon.jpg As the world’s population grows, finding sustainable sources for food is becoming increasingly important. Skuna Bay Salmon, a Vancouver Island salmon farm, has recently started sending its fish to Chicago, and chefs at restaurants like Atwood CafĂ©, Fish Bar, Maude’s Liquor Bar, Perennial Virant, and many others are getting shipments of the pristine flesh. We recently spoke with Managing Director Stewart Hawthorn and Director of Marketing Dave Mergle about Skuna Bay and why they’re bringing their fish to Chicago.

Chicagoist: You call your salmon “craft raised.” What exactly does that mean?

Stewart Hawthorn: For us it’s about recognizing the importance of the farmer. We have guidelines for people to help them make good decisions while farming, but we rely on the farmer to use his judgment. Skuna Bay is out in the middle of nowhere, so sometimes communication can be difficult. So we found people with great knowledge and experience and just let them farm. We’re a really small company, with a total of 100 staff and 50 on the farming side. So it’s a really intimate operation.

Dave Mergle: Our farmers are out there 24 hours a day, eight days in a row, since it isn’t feasible to get them in and out easily.

Chicagoist: Tell me a little about your location.

SH: The place we farm is off the coast of Vancouver Island. To get there you first get to Vancouver, then get on a ferry or plane to go to the island, and that takes you to the middle of the island. So you drive for an hour and a half to the coast, then jump on a boat to go to our island. The next thing you hit is Japan.

DM: There’s great glacier fed water, and most importantly, a really strong tidal current.

SH: Right, one of our foundations is that we want to farm fish in the ocean. What the ocean brings is a lot of clean and pristine water to keep fish healthy. The tides come in and flush in and out, and fish can swim against the current, which gives them muscle. It mimics what they would naturally do in the ocean.

Chicagoist: You just launched in Chicago and your fish is at dozens of restaurants. How did you come to expand so quickly here?

DM: We originally wanted to start sending our fish to Chicago, since it’s such a healthy restaurant community. But we also spent time in Los Angeles and fell in love with our distribution partner there, and since LA is right down the coast, we wanted to make sure we could get our salmon there in perfect condition before expanding. We also send our fish to Phoenix, Las Vegas, and San Diego. Once we knew we could, we went back to Chicago and partnered with Fortune Fish.

Chicagoist: How much salmon do you produce?

DM: We’ve been selling Skuna Bay salmon since November 14, and in that time we’ve done around 40 or 50,000 pounds of fish. We don’t sell every fish that goes into Skuna Bay—few meet our standards and we can select the best fish there is.

Chicagoist: Why is this type of farming so important?

SH: The world population just his seven billion people, and if we don’t find ways of responsibly producing more seafood there isn’t going to be enough. We’re focused on doing it right.

DM: We start with the perfect water, which produces beautifully textured fish, but the other important thing is the way we pack it up. We have a system [of recyclable corrugated cardboard cartons and liners] that makes sure that the chef gets to experience the fish exactly as it was pulled from the water, and then customers get a great dining experience.