Farm to Fork Sustainability: The Story Of Skuna Bay Salmon

“If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water”  ~ Loren Eiseley

Recently I had the pleasure of speaking with Jeanine Siemens of Skuna Bay/Grieg Seafood.  Skuna Bay is owned by Grieg Seafood and is the premium seafood product that Grieg Seafood produces. I had the good fortune to meet Jeanine at the Women Chef’s and Restaurateurs conference, held in Minneapolis this past April.  I attended a panel discussion called: Skuna Bay From Farm To Table: The Complete Breakdown.  This was a fascinating and informational session where Jeanine talked about the important work that Skuna Bay is doing to impact the seafood world. Jeanine is dedicated to the craft of  raising farmed salmon.  She is a specialist in her field and was one of the first females to enter this profession.  Jeanine shared the Skuna Bay story and then partnered with Chef and butcher Erika Nakamura to demonstrate how to properly filet (break down sushi style) a gorgeous Skuna Bay salmon. 

 

Following a wonderful post-conference phone conversation with Jeanine, I also had the opportunity to talk with Dean Trethewey, production director of Grieg Seafoods.  Like Jeanine, he has been in the industry for a very long time, 25 years to be exact.  Dean worked on commercial boats prior to this role. In his role as production director he oversees all of the certifications and regulations for Skuna Bay.  He looks after all of the sea sites and supports the farmers to make sure they have all that they need to do the job of growing healthy salmon.  Dean noticed many years ago that the wild salmon industry was beginning to struggle and was excited about being a part of an aquaculture business that took pressure off of those wild stocks. 

When I announced the launch of my Farm to Fork Project via this blog back in February, this is exactly the type of sustainability story that I wanted to bring to you.  The narrative of  a company made up of individuals who have a deep passion for their work and truly want to make a difference at the local, national and global levels.   Knowing your farmer, whether they hail from land or sea, is crucial.  The image below is of the incredible group of Skuna Bay salmon farmers who work hard every day to make a significant impact on sustainability while raising healthy salmon in their natural ocean environment. The farmers live onsite 24/7 to monitor the growth and health of the fish and to ensure the minimization of oceanic impacts.  

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We believe that the best salmon comes from personal care and attention to detail, from the hundreds of judgement calls that we experienced farmers make every day in the raising of our fish.  We believe that living on the farm 24/7 and knowing our fish the way we do results in a better salmon”  from the Skuna Bay website

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Grieg Seafood is one of the world’s leading fish farming companies.  Grieg Seafood is committed to operating responsibly and meeting or exceeding all regulatory requirements. Grieg Seafood was among the first salmon farming companies in North America to source salmon from farms that were independently audited by the Best Aquaculture Practices certification program” – Grieg Seafood Website

Their Gold River Hatchery is located in a place of unrivaled beauty at the mouth of Nootka Sound on Vancouver Island.  The craft raised salmon are grown in the remote, open areas of glaciar-fed waters.  From the very start, every process Skuna Bay institutes revolves around creating the highest quality of fish possible.  They employ the strictest parameters to ensure premium environmental conditions.  

Technology

For approximately the 1st year, the fish are in a fresh water setup.  A high tech filtration system allows for 99% water re-use and it is treated with UV and Ozone.  They are able to filter and screen solids out.  Skuna Bay Salmon pens contain 98.5% water and 1.5% fish. This is advantageous because fresh water has become such a scarce source. The fish have a very comfortable life in that controlled setting.  

The fish grow to approximately 5.5 kg before harvest takes place.  It takes from 3-4 years from the time they get the eggs to the time the salmon is harvested.  

Once they are put in the ocean, free tidal power is utilized.  The fish don’t have to fight gravity when they are fed so the energy expenditure requirements are very low.  Additionally, Salmon are cold blooded so they don’t have to expend any energy to keep warm.  This means the nutrition converts to actual meat. For every 1200 grams of feed you put into a fish, you get 1000 grams of fish.  This makes salmon farming the best converter in the protein market.  It is the lowest “fish in – fish out” protein ratio in the world.  Skuna Bay feed has less than 25% fish meal or fish oil.  Feed companies are working all of the time to find the best methods for creating optimal fish feed options.  All of the fish used in the feed comes from sustainably certified fisheries. 

Underwater cameras are put in place to monitor the eating patterns of the fish.  They work hard to match the food to the fish palate.  The ability to visualize what and how much the fish are eating allows for adjustments of of the feeding system, ensuring that all of the food put into the water is consumed by the salmon.  The goal is that no feed floats to the ocean floor.  Every year there are new technologies instituted that create opportunities for improvement from the prior year.  

The Ocean Floor

The salmon farm sites remediate so when fish waste goes to the bottom of the sea, natural bacteria consumes it.  They do not put a new group or class of fish back into the area until the farm site is has returned 100% back to its natural state.  The government does testing and gives the “green light” Most sites do so well that fallow or rest periods are not necessary and fish can be put back into the area immediately. 

Eco-Friendly Packaging

The boxes used to ship the salmon are functional and bio-degradable. They use recycled corrugate Thermafresh™ packaging that was created exclusively for them.  It keeps the fish perfectly chilled and fresh during transport.  The packaging is tamper proof. Traceable seals on the outside of the box are signed by an approved salmon selector after the package has been sealed.  Once sealed, the next person to touch the fish is the chef.  

 

Aquaculture Stewardship Certification (ASC)

Skuna Bay is moving toward ASC certification.  The Aquaculture Stewardship Certification is the highest standard you can attach to a fish.  The world life federation co-wrote the standards.

“The mission of ASC is to help create “a world where aquaculture plays a major role in supplying food and social benefits for mankind whilst minimizing negative impacts on the environment” From the ASC website 

“ASC works with aquaculture producers, seafood processors, retail and food service companies, scientists, conservation groups and consumers to do several things, including:

  • Recognize and reward responsible aquaculture through the ASC aquaculture certification program and seafood label.
  • Promote best environmental and social choice when buying seafood.
  • Contribute to transforming seafood markets towards sustainability

The considerable, often unintentional, adverse impacts associated with aquaculture, including the overuse of anti-biotics and poor site management, are reduced by ASC certification. By applying more than 150 performance indicators, the ASC helps to move the aquaculture industry towards sustainability”  ~ ASC Website

This is an organization that has an extremely high standard of rules and there are processes in place so that it is continuously improving upon itself.  It encompasses a lot of the aspects of what they do at Skuna Bay and is the foundation of how all of the Skuna Bay salmon farms operate.  All of their procedures and management policies are created from the ground up with this embedded in it.  This is deeply rooted in how all of the farmers do their daily jobs.  

Best Aquaculture Certification (BAP)

“Skuna Bay Salmon is a “4-Star” BAP-Certified Operation, certified as sustainable by the Global Aquaculture Alliance for its Sea Farms, Hatchery, Feed Mill and Processing operations. Skuna Bay was the very first salmon farmer in the world to have multiple farms awarded with the Best Aquaculture Practices certification beginning with its first star, achieved in November, 2011 and continuing today with regular audits of all its farms and facilities. Global Aquaculture Alliance is the leading standards-setting organization for aquaculture seafood and the Best Aquaculture Practices standards are developed by a committee of diverse stakeholders including leading progressive environmental and related advocacy organizations.

The Global Aquaculture Alliance’s review process involved an audit of Skuna Bay’s social responsibility, food safety, animal welfare and traceability processes and systems and a visit to its farms. Best Aquaculture Practices certification standards for salmon farms incorporate ongoing guidelines and quantitative criteria for veterinary care, nets, and feed content and ratios.” ~Skuna Bay Website

Jame Beard Foundation Smart Catch Program

“Smart Catch is an educational sustainable seafood program created by chefs for chefs with the purpose of increasing the sustainability of the seafood supply chain. With more than 90 percent of the world’s fisheries either fully fished or overfished, preserving marine life to assure stable fishing stocks and promoting sustainably farmed options is more important than ever. 

The idea for Smart Catch is simple and powerful: the program provides training and support to chefs so they can serve seafood fished or farmed in environmentally-responsible ways. By becoming a Smart Catch Leader and earning the Smart Catch seal, chefs give consumers a simple way to identify and support their restaurants.

Through Smart Catch, chefs have a chance to use their influence to lead industry efforts to maintain healthy, sustainable food sources both for now and for future generations. They will be able to expand not only our palates, but also our views” – James Beard Foundation Website

James Beard Partnership

“Skuna Bay has decided to expand their partnership with the James Beard Foundation.  As a founding partner of their sustainability impact program, together we believe that dissemination of accurate and adequate information on sustainability as a whole and advocacy for alternative proteins to chef’s and the like will provide end consumers with the right tools and knowledge, thus encouraging them to make sustainable purchasing and eating habits”  -Andy Cheung, Skuna Bay via Jeanine

Both Jeanine and Dean talked about what a huge honor and opportunity it is for Skuna Bay to be connected with the James Beard Foundation. The James Beard Foundation is dedicated to educating chef’s and consumers about sustainability and healthy dining/cooking choices through a multitude of platforms including chef boot camps, webinars, chef summits etc…I have listened to several of the JBF seafood sustainability webinars and the information that they disseminate is timely and so relevant to the issues that we are facing today.  

Regarding the JBF/Skuna Bay partnership:

“Skuna Bay craft-raises salmon in a natural ocean environment off Vancouver Island and stores fish in recyclable packaging during transport. At the center of their farming practices is an understanding that our planet needs more protein, and that increasing accessibility to sustainable seafood with the lowest carbon-generating food production systems on this planet is the best way to meet that demand” ~ James Beard Foundation Website

This program allows a group of some of the world’s finest chef’s to create dishes using Skuna Bay salmon.  The Skuna Bay farmers are intensely proud of this for many reasons.  The craft of raising salmon, and it is a true craft, takes an enormous effort on a daily basis.  The ability to provide their fish to so many amazing chefs is a significant accomplishment. 

 “When three to four years of work goes into making that fish, you want to make sure it is prepared in such a way that somebody loves it at the end of it” ~ Dean Tretheway

Skuna Bay routinely invites chefs to visit their farm sites so they can see first hand how the salmon that they are purchasing is raised and by whom.  These chefs are aware of the importance of not only creating beautiful dishes, but also doing it in a sustainable and meaningful way.  

People are understandably very concerned about what they put in their bodies and chef’s are at the forefront of consumer education.  The customer is often times more comfortable hearing about the product from the chef’s than the producer. There is a level of established trust.  Food is not as simple as it used to be when people grew up on their own farms and they knew exactly where their food came from.  Knowing the story behind our food is paramount. 

There are a few restaurants in the Twin Cities Metro area that currently source  Skuna Bay Salmon for their menus, hopefully there will be more in the future.   I made it a point to visit a couple of them specifically to order this salmon.  As a writer, I don’t feel like I can promote something that I haven’t experienced for myself.  See the photos below: 

Photo #1: Skuna Bay salmon Poke + Japanese Pickles & Furikake from a recent No Kid Hungry benefit in Minneapolis.  Dish was prepared by Chef Tim McKee (The first Minnesota Chef to receive a James Beard Award) and the team from Octo Fish Bar located in St. Paul, MN. 

Photo #2: Skuna Bay Salmon resting on sautéed leeks and a cashew cream sauce.  This dish was enjoyed at Young Joni in Minneapolis.  Chef and restaurateur Ann Kim is the 2019 James Beard Award winner for Best Chef Midwest.  

Photo #3: Skuna Bay Salmon resting on a purée of ramps with ricotta and salmon chicharon.  This dish was also from Octo Fish Bar.  

Photo #4: Skuna Bay Salmon with salsa verde and herbed salad from Young Joni

 

While many diners may question whether eating sustainably is more expensive, I found the salmon dishes pictured above to cost close to the same or even slightly less than wild caught salmon.  The texture and flavors were exemplary.  Every piece had numerous layers of luscious, healthy fats. 

Something to consider: Water resources and food security are very closely linked.  With the wild fish population decreasing at its current pace, the water requirements for the production of other proteins like beef and poultry continues to sky rocket.  When consumers have the option to choose healthy, farmed fish it decreases the water needs necessary for those alternative proteins.  I am in no way suggesting that people stop eating beef, poultry or pork, unless they choose to.  My personal diet includes a wide variety of proteins.  What I want to highlight is that we don’t typically consider how much fresh water it takes to make a hamburger patty or a pound of bacon. Varying our diet to include more seafood, like sustainably raised salmon, will not only help us to be healthier, it is a solution that will help our environment as a whole.  

The goal of this piece is to encourage readers to really look at the benefits of making sustainable dining choices.  Use the chefs in the establishments you frequent as resources.  They are in an amazing position to share information regarding where the ingredients on their menus is sourced from and often have direct knowledge regarding the farmers. This is the ultimate example of influencing for good.  

Seafood is heavily present on restaurant menus and in home kitchens in the United States.  It is even more of a staple in the diets of people in European and Asian Countries.  Continuing to navigate sustainable and affordable ways to bring it to the world’s table is essential.  

There are a lot of amazing stories of sustainability out there and I can’t wait to share more of them with you.

Thank you to Jeanine and Dean for taking the time to share the Skuna Bay story with me!

**The photos of the gorgeous landscapes and the group image of the farmers were provided to me by Jeanine. 

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