NORTHWEST smoked salmon and jerky should soon be sold on the shelves of a major American clothing and equipment retailer thanks to the opening this past weekend of a fish processing plant in Thornhill.
Patagonia, the American firm, and the Kossler family of Terrace have so far spent approximately $3 million building their business River Wild Salmon Inc. which will manufacture salmon products locally in its Thornhill plant.
The fish will be supplied by aboriginal groups and the company is working with Skeena Wild Salmon Conservation Trust, a local non-profit, which monitors salmon stocks in the Skeena river and its tributaries, to vouch that it uses salmon fished responsibly.
“We want to show the world that [a fish processing plant] can get 100 per cent fish from sustainable sources,” said part-owner of the company Harold Kossler.
To date, the company has purchased 114,000 kilograms of salmon which it plans to sell commercially cold and hot smoked and as jerky.
Looking to branch out into food sales, Patagonia plans to sell the salmon products through its retail outlets and online store, said Kossler.
River Wild Salmon Inc. finished its last batch of sample product last week, which needs to be tested and approved before a full commercial sales licence can be issued.
Kossler said the plant has already obtained top notch food-safety certification called ISO 22000, which requires risk management systems be put in place to control quality at each level of food production.
The plant now employs 10 people and Kossler estimates staff will jump to 15 once commercial sales start.
An on-site public sales room is estimated to open in about one year’s time, said Kossler.
The plant purchases both sockeye and pink salmon, although this year’s pink return wasn’t very good so the majority of salmon there now is sockeye, he said.
Most of the sockeye were purchased from the Lake Babine First Nation and sockeye was also purchased from the Kitwanga area, caught by the Gitxsan, and also at the Meziadin fishway, caught by the Gitanyow.
Pink salmon was also bought from the Wet’suwet’en from the Moricetown Canyon area.
Greg Knox from Skeena Wild Salmon Conservation Trust, who connected River Wild Salmon Inc. with suppliers, said he looked for salmon fished in ways that protected species not used at the plant.
“They are all live capture methods so the mortality rates are very low, less than 5 per cent on by catch species,” said Knox.
Also, salmon were taken from stocks that are of such a size that their overall viability won’t be threatened.
The way this is done is by fishing farther up rivers and select tributaries, said Knox, explaining that commercial ocean fisheries and river mouth fisheries intercept endangered stocks and that methods used to fish there don’t support the survival of released fish.
“Traditional gill nets are between 50 and 70 per cent by-catch mortality,” he said.
Fishing methods used to catch River Wild Salmon Inc.’s salmon include beach seining where nets are arched into a river with both ends touching beach, and only select species are caught within the net. Tangle tooth nets are also used, which have smaller holes that won’t suffocate salmon like gill nets which trap them around the area from which they breathe. Dip nets are used too, meaning fish are selectively scooped from the river into hand-held nets. And lastly, fish wheels were used in which a wheel spun by a river’s current scoops fish onto slides and then into large tanks. This way, the fish can be sorted by species and those not needed can be released, said Kossler.
“This is really a return to a fishery that worked for thousands of years,” said Knox.
After they’re caught, fish are shipped to Prince Rupert where they’re cleaned before being shipped here, said Kossler. The storage freezer at the plant is equipped to hold 80 tons of salmon.
Last Saturday, the plant held its grand opening to celebrate the plant’s construction completion and introduce its concept to more than 100 invited guests.