Pacific Coast seafood industry freshens its approach, all the way from pot to plate
Published in Coast Explorer Magazine, Summer 2013 (In press)
Talk about a heritage industry: Native Pacific Northwesterners were plucking prize edibles from the watery depths centuries before the arrival of commercial fishing in the 1800s.
These early coastal dwellers saw beloved regional species such as salmon, cold water shrimp and Dungeness crab as gifts so precious that fishing rights were written into the first treaties they signed with the U.S. government.
Technologies and palates have changed over time, with commercial vessels replacing basket and spear and a bevy of gourmet coastal restaurants replacing the simple smokehouses of old.
It’s no small task keeping the industry healthy as demand for seafood of Pacific Northwest pedigree rises, but ensuring the bounty has more to do with accurate science than it does magic, says Pacific Seafood Director of Marketing Bob O’Bryant.
“We believe we aren’t owners but stewards of the resources,” he said. “We’re strong proponents of a good management system based on science and not politics.”
Pacific Seafood got its start in 1941 as a Portland-based retail counter operation. Today, the family-owned company is an international seafood processor and distributor with facilities from Alaska to Texas and restaurants in Newport and Bay City, Ore.
Pacific operates under a set of standards it calls “The Pacific Advantage.” It’s an approach emphasizing stewardship, sustainability, quality assurance and traceability, and it’s a microcosm of the best practices at work across the Pacific Northwest.
Stewardship and sustainability mean making ecologically and ethically sound choices that minimize waste and conserve resources.
A proactive emphasis on quality yields safer, fresher products, but traceability is also essential, so Pacific has created software that traces the provenance of every product it stocks, sells or shells from boat to market.
The approach has earned Pacific plenty of accolades, including “A Grade” certification of its cold water shrimp processing facility from the British Retail Consortium. The BRC sets international standards for food preparation and distribution, and Pacific is the only U.S. facility to earn the certification so far. More than a dozen Pacific products have also earned a nod from the Marine Stewardship Council, an industry-leading sustainable seafood certification and eco-labeling program.
Sound resource management begets better harvests and clearer consciences to be sure, but you haven’t closed the loop till the customers, too, have a stake in the process.
Pacific Seafood’s fish-house restaurants and markets are built right alongside processing facilities so diners can see shrimp shelling and oyster shucking in action before sitting down to those steaming bowl of clam chowder and cioppino.
“It educates people about how fresh the seafood is on the coast, about the food safety that goes in the process, and about the quality of the products,” O’Bryant said. “It’s an education tool as much as a tourist draw. We like people to see what we do.”
Seafood by the Numbers
19: grams of protein in just 3 ounces of cooked Dungeness crab
450: commercial crab fishing permits issued annually in Oregon
126 pounds: size of the largest Chinook salmon on record
300,000 tons: average annual global cold water shrimp harvest
28 million pounds: average annual Pacific cold water shrimp harvest
35,000 tons: average annual oyster yield from West Coast oyster farms
400: number of oysters King Henry IV was rumored to eat each evening before dinner
$145 million: total harvest value of all Oregon fisheries in 2011