Sustainability has become a vital part of the vernacular in the Yukon River Valley, whose Yup'ik Eskimo residents rely on salmon not only as a means of income, but also as their majority source of food. Strapping Alaskans smile as they detail their favorite ways to eat the fish: raw, poached, fried, grilled, breaded, baked, barbecued, smoked, popcorn'd, or soup'd... Who can decide, really? What matters most is that it's on each of their plates, every day of the year.
Life hasn't always been so rosy. During the late 1990s, the salmon population diminished, causing Fish & Game departments to drastically limit fishing. When they closed the river for an entire season, the local population spiraled, suffered and staggered. And while other areas carried on as usual, the Yukon Valley residents asked an environmental agency to step in and help. The agency quickly regulated supply and demand, ensuring that the environment, the fishermen and the worldwide markets could all thrive in harmony.
As we grow ever aware of the consequences of overfishing, more and more local populations are taking similar steps, and today salmon runs worldwide are closely monitored to make sure an adequate number of fish are allowed up the river to spawn. Practices like this have converted Yukon River wild salmon into a success story for fisheries around the world; the population has rebounded nicely to the delight of the local communities, as well as to lucky diners worldwide.
Last week we attended a dinner sponsored by Oldways, Kwik-Pak Fisheries, and Robert Del Grande that shined a spotlight on the benefits of Yukon River salmon. According to the marketing reports, in addition to the sustainability factor, Yukon River Salmon has the tip-top highest amount of Omega-3 fatty acids you can find in a salmon, thanks to the crazy buildup of oils needed to sustain the fish for the 2,000-mile journey upstream, and blah blah blah. And while all kinds of people came in to preach the amazing health benefits, the real standout was the taste, an unforgettably rich flavor that's as pure as the river it comes from. Not that we've been to Alaska.
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While you'll find Yukon River salmon around town at several restaurants--Haven and RDG included--Central Market is the only local vendor that currently sells the fish unprepared. Last season the market was stocked with the fresh variety, and sales went so well that they're already testing the market for the frozen ones. You know, for those of us who like a side of environmental responsibility with our fish.