If our country’s famed Copper River salmon runs were threatened by a massive mining project, I think diners nationwide would be protesting the plans. Why, I asked journalist Paul Greenberg a few years ago, wasn’t there a bigger outcry about the proposed Pebble Mine project in Alaska and its effect on Bristol Bay salmon?
It’s Bristol Bay salmon, after all, that ordinary people are eating year-round, whether in supermarket cans or in packages of smoked sockeye from Trader Joe’s. While the Copper River run is rarified and rich, Bristol Bay is the biggest sockeye run in the world. Greenberg described it as “the world’s best protein,” tasting great, relatively inexpensive, completely natural, low in pollutants, high in omega-3s, locally sourced.
The answer? Maybe Bristol Bay salmon, Greenberg said, never had a Jon Rowley, the Copper River tastemaker who opened the world’s eyes to an existing treasure.
At this point, though, the salmon run may have found its own passionate champion in Greenberg, who has spent years covering the topic. Bristol Bay salmon is featured along with New York oysters and Gulf Coast shrimp in Greenberg’s new book, “American Catch: The Fight For Our Local Seafood.” He will speak at Town Hall at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 10. Cost: $5, with tickets online here.
He describes in the book how our relationship with seafood has become more distant. Americans don’t eat much, and, in a huge shift over the past 30 years, we buy it from supermarkets rather than fishmongers.
Most of the fish we do eat — 91 percent! — is imported, some of it from dubious sources, he writes. Oddly, that’s not because we have a seafood shortage. Much of what we catch here, including that wild Alaskan salmon, is exported. Some of the salmon is even exported to China for cheap processing, then imported back here.
Greenberg talks about the peculiar logic that’s caused our local seafood system to unravel, and what’s at stake if we don’t reel it back in.
Locally, the Bristol Bay cause has become more high-profile than it once was, with chefs like Tom Douglas taking a stand on it and restaurants like Skillet calling out Bristol Bay salmon on their menus. The mine project has faced setbacks, though it’s still unresolved.
After the Town Hall talk July 10, guests are invited to stay for a book signing and a light reception with Greenberg — with canapes prepared by Tom Douglas Restaurants, made from, natch, Bristol Bay salmon. While it doesn’t have the fat content of the gorgeous Copper River, he told me long ago, it’s also a question of branding.
“I bet you a nice, fresh Bristol Bay sockeye next to a nice Copper River sockeye, blind taste-tested — I don’t know if there are too many people who could tell the difference.”