Chefs from across the nation, fishermen, fish-buyers and conservationists will gather today with members of Congress to celebrate wild Pacific salmon at the “Vote With Your Fork!” reception, and highlight what Americans stand to lose if we do not take steps to protect habitat for these iconic fish.
“Wild salmon are incredibly important to the economic prosperity of the Pacific Northwest, Alaska and our Native American communities,” said Congressman Mike Thompson (D-CA). “They’re also the healthier choice, for both our bodies and the environment. We need to do everything we can to restore and protect our rivers so wild salmon can thrive.”
Fewer wild salmon are returning each year to key western watersheds. Degraded habitat conditions, western water management, and river blockages like dams are causing our nation’s last great salmon runs to disappear. Even healthy salmon runs in Alaska — where the bulk of commercially available wild salmon is currently caught — are now facing threats that may harm their remarkable habitat.
“Wild salmon in one of the few wild foods we still regularly see on the dinner table,” said Alice Waters, chef and owner of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, CA. “They have an exquisite, delicate flavor and eating wild salmon can connect you in a beautiful way to the sea. But only a long-term commitment to protecting and restoring salmon habitat will ensure that Pacific wild salmon remains a natural resource.”
In 2006, fishery managers closed some 700 miles of Pacific coast — stretching from Monterey, California to just south of the mouth of the Columbia River in Oregon — to nearly all commercial salmon fishing. The closure was an effort to reduce the catch of one wild salmon population that has plummeted sharply in recent years: the Klamath River’s population of fall chinook, or king, salmon.
“When you have a bad year like 2006, it hurts salmon fishermen, fish distributors, and restaurant owners all along the coast,” said Riley Starks, a commercial salmon fisherman and owner of the Willows Inn on Lummi Island, WA. “If we’re going to maintain fishing communities and fish-based economies in our coastal towns, we have to plan for long-term protection and restoration for the rivers, streams, oceans, and sounds where wild salmon live and spawn. We have to remain conscious of our every impact on these fragile systems.”
The goal of today’s “Vote With Your Fork!” reception is to highlight the culinary and economic benefits of healthy, wild-caught Pacific salmon, and to demonstrate consumer demand for long-term protections for salmon habitat. The reception will feature wild-caught salmon supplied by Alaskan fishermen, and prepared by four Washington DC restaurants. Wild salmon hors d’oeuvres will be served alongside wine donated by wineries in Oregon and Washington states.
“Wild salmon is an icon of the Pacific Northwest, and a healthy, sustainable part of our region’s cuisine,” said Chef Greg Higgins, of Higgins Restaurant in Portland, OR. “We need consumers everywhere to vote with their forks and choose wild salmon in their favorite restaurants and markets.”
At the reception, Chef Higgins and other special guests will deliver a letter to Congress signed by some 200 chefs, restaurant owners and other food professionals from around the country, all expressing their support for protecting wild salmon habitat in the Pacific Northwest.
“For more than 25 years, I’ve proudly promoted sustainably caught fish as part of a sound strategy to protect our oceans,” said Paul Johnson, founder and president of Monterey Fish Market in California, and sole supplier of wild salmon for Chez Panisse. “If we want to have wild salmon around for our kids and their kids, we’ve got to protect the places where they live and spawn. What we do today will determine the future.”