Fishermen's News - The Advocate for the Commercial Fisherman

By Chris Philips
Managing Editor 

Thank Goodness for Refrigeration


March 1, 2020

Frozen fish used to have a stigma, probably for good reason. Before the advent of onboard refrigeration (see the excellent piece by Mark Burn beginning on page 22 of March 2020 Fishermen's News) the quality of the product declined quickly once it was landed, and many harvesters would send their older fish to be processed and frozen. By the same token, grocers weren’t well educated in the proper storage and marketing of frozen product, which often wound up being thawed and refrozen during the defrost cycles of the grocery store freezers. The results were unappetizing at best, and contributed to the perception that frozen fish wasn’t fit for human consumption.

Everything has changed in the frozen seafood universe, including the aforementioned point-of-harvest refrigeration systems. It’s no longer a dicey prospect to order a piece of wild Alaskan king salmon at a restaurant in Montana.

As significant as refrigeration and quality control is the education of the general public. More importantly, the chefs who serve the finest seafoods can and do act as advocates of frozen product to their customers. This acceptance of frozen seafood by the consumer has been hard-won, and the industry needs to remain vigilant to ensure that the quality of the seafood being frozen remains high.

The continued quality of frozen fish will be of special importance to the consumers of Washington State, thanks to continuing efforts to close the state’s waters to non-tribal gillnets. Substitute Senate Bill 5617, introduced in January of 2019 and reintroduced earlier this year, seeks to completely ban non-tribal gillnets from the Columbia River by December 31, 2020. While ostensibly a bill to protect Orca whales and their food source, it clearly delineates wild and hatchery fish. Experts with whom we have spoken tell us that Orcas don’t differentiate, and are happy to dine on hatchery fish as well as wild.

The bill proposes to buy back gillnet licenses “from a willing seller” for up to 3.5 times the fisherman’s average ex-vessel value for salmon landed in the Columbia between 2014 and 2018, which, perhaps not coincidentally, is the period the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission began moving gillnets off the mainstem Columbia River.

Unwilling sellers can presumably keep their license to frame and hang in the wheelhouse.

The bill allows for non-tribal gillnets in Grays Harbor, Puget Sound and Willapa Bay for the time being.

The state’s governor, Jay Inslee, would like commercial fishing in his state to be conducted solely by the tribes or recreational fishermen, and he has promised that the tribes can supply all the commercially-caught fish Washington consumers might need. Tribal gillnetting on the Columbia will presumably continue, although we were informed by one of our readers of an interesting conversation with a tribe member.

Tribal fishing operations in the lower Puget Sound have diminished greatly in the past few years, he notes. Tribal fishing for salmon for flesh is decreasing each year, and the harvesting by tribes of salmon for their roe has also declined. One particular tribe is opening a new mega casino and sports gambling facility, which will employ large numbers of tribal members and pay very well, and may soon eliminate the need to fish for salmon for a living.

With a declining interest in fishing by the tribes, a declining effort to increase salmon production in Puget Sound isn’t far behind. Any fish left would be available to the recreational harvest, which also fits into Governor Inslee’s master plan. Washington State consumers will have to get used to buying frozen fish from Alaska. Thank goodness for refrigeration.

Chris Philips can be reached at: 206-284-8285 or email:


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