Friday, May 28, 2010

Choo-choo-choose me

Same fish, two prices. Why?
They're not the same and because we like distinctions so much around here, we'll lay it out:

One is previously frozen, one is fresh.
One is from China, one is from Equador.
One is cheap because it's plentiful and comes from a place with no accountability to their practices.
The other, is sustainably raised and distributed by a wholesale fish distributor partnered with Whole Foods.

What we did at our meeting two weeks ago was commit to being a fish market that stands for sustainability, completely by January 1. The earth provides what we sell, and therefore we owe it all we can. This means constantly looking at the Monterrey Bay Seafood Watch, demanding more from our suppliers, carrying new stuff and probably getting rid of some stuff.

"It's two shows of tilapia," Dicky laughs. "The sustainable one is double the price, we gotta give people the choice for now".
In an environment where everyone from UW football Coach Steve Sarkisian ($1.85 million salary) to the neighborhood folks living in low income housing and the temporary shelter dwellers buy fish for less than a dollar.....a choice is what we can offer. Making a choice is empowering and we hope that by us making a choice for better fish, customers will see the importance and power of the purse in the health of our planet and fisheries. Will we continue to carry two displays of tilapia? Probably not, but between the new sustainably raised ling cod and the new tilapia, today was a big day for Pike Place Fish.

As he dropped off our new selection of responsibly raised tilapia, Rick Cavanaugh of Select Fish (wholesaler for Whole Foods) added his support: "If you guys are going down the sustainability route, just know I can help. It can be a tough slope, but the world has a listening".
With over 10 million people at the Pike Place Market every year, a lot of whom come by our stand, we have a responsibiliity to take a stand for who we are and what we we want to see in the world. We can have fun at work, we're real good at that, but it's time for better seafood. We can't do this alone, so please keep the comments coming and know we thrive on discussion.

Up Next:
Thursday meeting with Mashiko Japanese Seafood Restaurant.
Muscular Dystrophy Association lockup event with the Seattle Seahawks

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A chat with Johnny

As a follow-up to the steelhead announcement, we bring you a brief conversation with John Yokoyama, the long-time owner of Pike Place Fish. He stopped in the market to grab some vegetables and a fat, Copper River King steak for dinner and answered a few questions.

How long have you been at Pike Place Fish?
My dad owned the stand that was fruit and vegetables beside me and I've owned the fish market since 1965.

Tell us about your experience fishing in the Puget Sound.

This was in the early 50s, but we would fish in Edmunds and Whidbey Island, the Green River. We'd get pissed off if we didn't catch something in the first 10 minutes! Black cod, ling cod, true cod, yellow eyes, sometimes halibut. If we caught steelhead, we'd give it away..too dry for me anyway. I'm not sure you can even go catch those things anymore around here. I fish for kings still on nice days.

What do you hear from buyers and suppliers about certain fish's availability, questions of sustainability?

Well you see certain species declining in availability, prices going up and even the sizes getting smaller. We used to see petrale sole like this and now there just tiny! It's not really "whisper down the lane" with the supply chain but you buy fish for as long as I have, you really do see the whole industry evolving a bit. We're definitely in a new era from when I was first an owner.

What does that "new era" mean for you as an owner?

This steelhead move is a good example, we're basically catering to what people have told us. We as a group decided, it wasn't just me saying "this is how it's going to be." Over time, different guys brought up certain articles, certain emails from people, looked up their own research. We then said hey, in order to really BE our commitment, we may have to stop selling this.

Seems almost backward from a business sense?
Yeah, it was a fish that we sold ya know? It's not like it was something that didn't make us money. But it's not in line with who we are and want to be. It's funny because stopping something that helped make your business money doesn't seem right. But to us as a group and to me, integrity is more important.

Does the response suprise you?
I'm 68 so the instantaneous response is overwhelming, so quickly we heard from people! We're here to serve and take care of people and if they don't want something, what are we to do?

So change is a no-brainer?

Well it's not easy. I'm not the same person or business owner I was 30 years ago. If you had asked me to stop selling something then, I would have told you to take a walk. My mind has changed, I've changed and you wouldn't have even known me then....let alone wanted to work for me! Change can be instantaneous like making a hard decision about an employee going somewhere else and the team integrity is back OR it can be a long process like this sustainability move for us at Pike Place Fish. It's not going to happen overnight, but I'm glad we're doing what we're doing. This could get in the media you know?

Does that scare you?
Not at all, go ahead and bring it. All we have done in the past and something big we can do now is lead by example. We can't tell people how to run their business, all we can do is show that we care about who we are and what we sell. For you guys that work here, you're creating the business the way you want it for your future. I'm not going to be around forever as an owner so it's up to my guys to make this place the way they want it.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

A "retired" fishmonger's continued work

May 15th and 16th 2010 meant the Seattle Cheese Festival. Tents, trucks and toothpicks dotted the market as folks milled about (some with red wine on the lips and throwin' elbows to get that damn free sample!). For two days, the street was chauk-full of people and blocked off to normal traffic. We were selling our fish as normal, touting the merits of smoked salmon and buttery Beecher's Handmade Clean Slate. The sun was out and the Copper River Kings and Sockeyes flew like boeing 747's. So basically, just another weekend in Seattle.

Once the bars are full at 7pm, there's a line around the block at the Showbox Theater, and people begin to make dinner plans, nine-year fishmonger Anders Miller and former fishmonger turned restaurateur Dan Bugge are hard at work. Steamer clams with chorizo and white wine fill the air. Two floors above the market bricks at Matt's in the Market, Anders and Dan's party of 14 has downed their pork belly pattes, Mamma Lil's Peppers and are beginning to drool for their Skagit River King Salmon and halibut dusted with Asparagus puree and pancetta.

"We've been doing this for five or six years now," Dan says referring to his participation in the Jacob Green's charity auction.
"He's retired from the tossing part at the auction but we can still collaborate on the food," Anders says as he maneuvers around his fellow chef-coat clad, backwards hat wearing fishmonger and long-time friend. "We've been buddies for a long time, I'm just glad we can keep a tradition like this going."

After two or three years of the auction dinner occurring at the winner John DeVore's house in Redmond, Dan and Anders have been throwing this private party at Dan's 52-seat restaurant ever since he became co-owner back in 2007. "We're not usually open on Sunday nights. I can cook with my buddy for a charity with awesome people and not stress about anything else," Dan says.

In his 13 year National Football League career, Jacob Green played twelve seasons for the Seattle Seahawks, as number 79, and one season for the San Francisco 49ers. As his father endured chemo, Green decided to begin using his fame for a good cause at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Dan, being a longtime Seahawk fan and experiencing something similar with his father wanted to get on board. "Whether it's for the Kirkland Boys and Girls Club with Steve Largent or here at my own restaurant, the auctions are always fun. We raise tons of money for a good cause and hopefully in the future, we'll continue to grow."

We at Pike Place Fish give back a lot and whenever we can do so with food, you can be sure it's good. "Keeping it local, fresh and now a partnership with the fish market and my restaurant, it's only going to get better," said Dan.

With a solid group of return diners, one including Don James the "Dawgfather" of University of Washington football, you can't fault Dan and Anders for being ambitious. "You coached me well Mr. James," said Anders. "At the auction when I caught a fish, you had to remind me to put down my wine glass! So thanks coach".

This summer at the Westin in Seattle, the auction will happen again and if John DeVore's has anything to say about it, you won't get anywhere near his hallowed tradition. "Good part is we can have a delicious dinner served by two guys we trust, and my friends and family can experience what the market has to offer; some of them have never even been down here," says DeVores.

Friday, May 14, 2010

No More Steelhead at PPFM

We've read your emails, we've taken in the conversations at the market, we've had sustainability representatives speak at our meetings, and we've asked the tough questions to our suppliers. Our commitment is to make a difference and we can do that on many fronts, the supply of our seafood being one. We're constantly educating ourselves and understand sustainability to be a process and one that starts with no longer carrying wild steelhead.

Identified as a "species of concern" by the National Marine Fisheries Service in 1998, Steelhead trout has always been a hot-button issue for the pacific northwest all the way down into southern California. The map on the right comes from the Office of Protected Resources and provides a visual of steelhead's status as "threatened" yellow and "endangered" in red. The map is relatively small and hard to see, so click here to see it in full size.

Steelhead are similar to some Pacific salmon in their life cycle and ecological requirements. They are born in fresh water streams, where they spend their first 1-3 years of life. They then emigrate to the ocean where most of their growth occurs. After spending between one to four growing seasons in the ocean, steelhead return to their native fresh water stream to spawn. Unlike Pacific salmon, steelhead do not necessarily die after spawning and are able to spawn more than once. To the taste, they are more lean and mild tasting salmon.

As a fish market with power and responsibility for who we are on this planet, steelhead no longer fits in with our intention to provide sustainable seafood.

Although for years we've provided a variety of steelhead not present on the "endangered" list from the Olympic Peninsula here in Washington, the issue is much larger than we can begin to explain. It's now our intention to find a more sustainably managed variety of ocean going trout in the future (perhaps an aquaculture version). Efforts are widespread to better manage the populations and possibly recover the depletion of this species, and we fully support these, but the sale of wild steelhead will no longer occur at Pike Place Fish.

Please read further reports and information about this species here at the following links.