By Chef Bryan Szeliga, December 2010
I am a chef, fly fisherman, and salmon conservationist. As a child from Colorado I have fond memories of vacations in Atlantic City, New Jersey. My father grew up in Philadelphia with a family tradition of fishing the bay and ocean for flounder, sea bass, weakfish, sand shark, blue fish, and stripers. A day on the water was sure to produce this quote from my father and Uncle Jack, “Fishing is just not what it used to be. Remember how many fish we used to catch as kids?”
However, as a child I do remember that the result of an Atlantic City fishing trip was a cooler filled with fish! At that time we would harvest every legal size fish we could catch.
A recent fishing trip yielded two legal flounder and a big dose of reality. The reality is that we are only a generation away from not knowing what it is like to catch as many fish as we once did.
My college years were spent in Durango, Colorado. Throughout college and the following eight years I would perfect my fly fishing skills on world class trout rivers such as the San Juan, South Platte, Flat Creek, Henry’s Fork, and the Madison to name a few.
In those 12 years of fishing I never once harvested a fish. As time progressed I found myself peering into the stream simply watching the fish rather than trying to catch them. Over the years, I have been privileged to experience fish, water and the environment, for which I have developed a deep respect.
In 2007 I moved from Colorado to Portland, Oregon where I promptly attended culinary school. Outside of the kitchen I spent as many days as possible fly fishing for steelhead and salmon.
Ezra Pound once said, “No man understands a deep book until he has seen and lived at least part of its contents.”
Truth be told, if I were void of the fly fishing experience, my culinary journey would not have resulted in a desire to spread awareness of sustainable seafood. Firsthand, I have witnessed the epic wild steelhead run of the Salmonberry River in Oregon be decimated through habitat destruction.
I have learned of the Warm Springs Indian people naming the river in Central Oregon the Metolius River (meaning “smelly water”) because, sockeye salmon used to spawn in such large quantities that the entire river valley would have a strong smell. The result of one salmon’s generation life cycle coming to an end so that another generation could begin. The Metolius River sockeye are now extinct. I now question the sustainability of eating wild salmon.
My passion for fishing and cooking has lead me on a broader search to understand the true meaning of sustainable seafood, a meaning that I can justify to my customers and to the generations to come.
This is the first in a series of Sustainable Seafood 101 articles I am writing for CHEFnews.com that are based on my research, my culinary perspective, and my respect for the environment and sustainable seafood.
Over the course of this series, my goal is to provide clarification on the confusing topic of sustainable seafood. I will provide factual information, tips, links, recipes, and questions to ask your fishmonger and chefs. I hope you will continue with me on this educational journey to better understand sustainable seafood.
Cool link: Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch. This is a great resource to learn about specific issues and sustainable seafood recommendations.
Fishmonger Question: The first step in sustainable seafood is to know the source. Ask your fishmonger or chef where the seafood is from and why they believe it to be sustainable. (The process of asking the question is almost more important then the answer. Fishmongers and chefs need to know the public is informed, cares, and will hold them accountable for what they are selling.)
Recipe: Tequila Steamed Clams
Fact Sheet: Wild salmon are in crisis! These numbers include only species of salmon from the Oregon, California, Nevada, Idaho, Southern British Columbia, and Washington areas. They do not include Atlantic Salmon or other Pacific Rim Salmon from the Far East.
Chef Bryan Szeliga, an avid fly fisherman and salmon conservationist is currently devoting his time and energy to promote a better understanding of sustainable seafood.