One of my newest customers was surprised that we deliver salmon that we caught ourselves. he said he half suspected a Sysco truck to show up. For one thing, a Sysco truck might’ve had trouble with the driveway. It was exciting for us even with all-wheel-drive and snow tires. Mariah tried to raise the suspension on the Model X but the screen froze so she just went for it. When we fell into the frozen ruts we bottomed out pretty hard. Thankfully the undercarriage is smooth so we slid through. Might’ve bashed the battery a bit.
Anyway, after that adventurous approach I had a thoughtful conversation with the new customer. He said our prices are better than Walmart, and he wasn’t sure if we we could really be a small local business. I said, “It’s a shame all the companies that call themselves a family owned business.”
“Yeah, well the Waltons are a family business,” he said.
I laughed and we kept talking about local business profit margins until I shivered and stuttered in the ten degree shade. I smiled as I walked back up the driveway though.
He mentioned that our website worked well but that it could use more info on our business, so here it is:
In the three seasons I’ve been skippering the boat, we’ve averaged 90,000 lbs, all of which we unload to tenders (larger boats) within a dozen miles of where we caught the fish. The tenders might offload fifty boats on the grounds and bring 500,000 lbs of sockeye back to the processing plant in one load. From there it’s sucked out of their hold through a 12” hose and pumped 300 yards up the beach to the plant where it’s headed, gutted, filleted, and flash frozen at -40 F. Freeezing it so fast and cold helps maintain the texture and flavor of the filets and I think it works. I could be fooled into thinking a filet from Silver Bay Seafoods was pulled from the water that day, even if it’s been frozen for a year. If it’s cooked right, that is.
Silver Bay is a fisherman-owned processing company, and they offer to sell up to 42,000 lbs of vacuum packed frozen filets back to each fisherman to sell on their own. They pay us about $1.50/lb for the fish straight off our fishing boat, we’ve severed the gills to drain the blood and chilled the fish below 38 F, both measures to reduce bruising.
We have to commit to how much fish we want to direct market before July 1st, then our order arrives in Seattle around September 1st. From there we arrange to have it trucked out to Colorado.
Up until this fall, we kept our fish in a cold storage in Denver, nearly an hour drive each way from our house and most of our customers. They required a 24 hour notice to schedule pick ups, but they always got our orders right, which consisted of a mix of loose filets and boxes. I have a freezer that plugs into a 12 volt outlet in the car and holds about 50 lbs of salmon, or 35 filets. The same freezer runs on AC power so I can plug it into an outlet and keep our fish cold all day at the farmers market in Nederland.
Two blocks from the site of the farmers market, I found a space to rent where we have three 30 cubic foot chest freezers plugged in. That’s where all our fish is stored now, so I don’t have to make as many trips to Denver. Also nearby is Busey Brews Smokehouse & Brewery, the outfit that smokes and repackages our salmon. Every couple weeks I shuffle a couple 25 lb boxes to them and get one box back smoked, which I sell for twice the price. Simple math. They serve their half of the smoked salmon on BLTs, Mac n cheese, or salads. We don’t do fish sticks at the moment, but I’d be happy to share a recipe for salmon beer bits.
It seems like a lot of steps to get salmon to our mountain neighbors, but wild salmon is worth it. I get frustrated when I see Scottish, Norwegian, Chilean, or Tasmanian salmon on the menus of upscale restaurants in Boulder, since I know that many customers are simply sold on the exotic names, not knowing that all the salmon exported from those countries is farmed, so it isn’t nearly as healthy or tasty to eat or sustainable for the environment. It’s my goal to replace that with wild sustainable Alaskan sockeye salmon.
There’s a first glimpse behind the curtain. I know it’s been interesting for me to learn about how salmon gets from Naknek to Nederland, and I hope it is for you too. I’m happy to share even more details on direct marketing for anyone who’s interested!