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food FEATURES


Dig Inn Salmon - WEB ONLY

Why We Chose Wild Salmon Over Ocean-Based Farm-Raised Salmon

As of Monday, March 2, we will be charging an additional $0.92 ($1 after-tax) for every Grilled Salmon Marketplate, salad, and sandwich we sell. In exchange, customers will be eating a far tastier breed of wild salmon because we’ve decided to upgrade our salmon from pink salmon to Sockeye salmon.

Consequently, Sockeye salmon is a more expensive species and in greater demand. We think it’s worth it, and you’ll be able to taste the difference. You may be asking yourself, “Sockeye over pink? Isn’t all salmon created equal?” Or maybe you aren’t prone to salmon pondering. But at Dig Inn, we are. In fact, we obsess about sourcing. We pore over research and information to make the best decisions we can about what ingredients we put into our food. We also like to be as transparent as we can about why we make the choices we do—which is why we want to walk you through our decision-making around salmon.

WITH SALMON, COLOR IS KING 

After a great deal of investigating and researching (and yes, tasting too), we have chosen Sockeye over pink for our restaurants. Why Sockeye? They are among the highest-quality, best-tasting salmon out there. Wild salmon get their vibrant pink and red colors from their natural diet. Specifically, Sockeye get their rich red color from eating tiny shrimp and krill, which are filled with carotenoids. To a large extent, we believe that you are what what you eat eats (say that five times fast!) In this case, by choosing Sockeye, we’re trading up for flavor. Though only available for a short period of time, Sockeye has a richer flavor profile and fat content that makes them more delicious and nutritious than pink salmon.

THE “FARMED” VS “WILD” SALMON DECISION
It wasn’t an easy decision to come to, and we want to share our thinking about it because we know that, more than ever, where our food comes from matters as much as what that food actually is. When it comes to sourcing, there’s no simple checklist for us, and the criteria run the gamut from price, to location, to one of our favorite questions, “Would we feed this to our families?” It’s a long, sometimes difficult, but always illuminating process—and it leads us to places, people, and information of all sorts. Here goes. Americans eat roughly 626,000 pounds of it per year. It’s popularity has skyrocketed, and there’s no surprise why. It’s considered a “superfood.” It’s a high quality protein rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, critical vitamins, and essential minerals. There are countless, well-chronicled health benefits to the brain, joints, mood, and eyes from consumption of fish rich in Omega-3 fatty acids. But all of that salmon does not originate from the same place or in the same way. Roughly two-thirds of salmon consumed in the United States is farm-raised salmon, while the remainder is wild caught. This isn’t the way it’s always been, and the growth of farm-raised salmon as a percentage of total salmon consumption is a relatively new phenomenon. In fact, farmed-raised salmon is the fastest growing food production system in the world. Farm-raised salmon are grown and harvested in floating pens in big open bodies of water—but that means that their growth affects the surrounding environment and wild salmon population. This has prompted serious debates about the sustainability and health of farm-raised salmon. Is farm-raised salmon responsible for the population decline in wild salmon? Does it pollute nearby waters, or erode the ecosystem for marine life? Is it healthy and safe to eat? These are the questions we struggled with as we looked into the research and examined the farms available to us. What it came down to for us is the confidence we have in wild caught salmon. More precisely, it’s the confidence we didn’t have in farm-raised salmon. An important disclaimer: This wasn’t a clear black-and-white decision, and the circumstances that influenced it may change over time. But based on what we learned, we grew concerned about the agricultural practices that go into producing farm-raised salmon.

ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT
In 2007, for instance, the Chilean salmon farming industry almost collapsed, as a vicious disease known as I.S.A, or infectious salmon anemia, spread throughout the salmon population. Eggs imported from Norway brought the disease to Chile, and farmed salmon practices amplified it. Overcrowded pens, intensive feeding, use of antibiotics, colorants, and chemicals resulted in an environment that couldn’t correct itself the way Mother Nature intended. Even though there have been vigorous efforts to keep I.S.A. out of salmon farms, it still lingers here in the US. And while I.S.A isn’t a direct threat to humans, it certainly puts the salmon population at risk—and we care about sustainability in our work as much as anything else. There were other issues as well. Farmed salmon escapes are fairly common, which results in cross breeding with wild populations. Some reports suggest that this cross-breeding has led to a sharp decline in the wild salmon population. There’s an added source of discomfort in the fact that the farmed salmon industry is relatively unregulated when it comes to its growing practices, environmental impact, and health effects. These farms aren’t the most transparent institutions around, and third party audits of their practices are uncommon.

WILD SALMON IS THE CHOICE FOR US (FOR NOW)
All of this contributed to our decision to procure wild salmon for our customers. And then looking for wild salmon, we looked into two regions: The Pacific Northwest & Alaska. As the Pacific Northwest wild salmon population continues to dwindle due to overfishing, we shifted our focus to wild Alaskan salmon. Because of smart regulation and monitoring, wild Alaskan salmon are actually a self-sustaining species. Government appointed management councils like the NPFMC set what is called an optimum escapement goal, which ensures that a high number of salmon escape the harvest, spawn, and reproduce. This keeps populations and stock healthy. Furthermore, our Sockeye salmon are caught using a passive method of fishing called gillnetting. We’ve confirmed with the fisherman that there is no bycatch, or unintentional species caught other than salmon. This creates no impact on the surrounding habitat. Lastly, the passive method creates a low stress environment for the fish, which contributes to the flavor of the fish. To be clear, farmed salmon is not off the table for us. We are actively looking for farmed fish that is sustainably raised and meets our exacting standards, which include: no use of antibiotics or growth hormones in the feed or administered to the fish a traceability program that tracks back to where the fish was raised a traceability program that established an acceptable threshold for escapees, and could accurately track most, if not all cases the farmer takes meaningful steps to minimize the environmental impact of open sea aquaculture, such as pesticide minimization, low pen densities, resting pens between harvest, and less intensive feeding. And in truth, the farmed salmon industry has recovered and continues to improve its practices. The industry has done a better job improving pens to reduce the amount of escapees. Environmental impact has been slightly reduced with better pen management. More access to public data has increased transparency in the farmed salmon industry. All these efforts have shown some positive momentum. In fact, late last fall, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which evaluates industry practices, gave a “good alternative” to Verlasso Salmon in Chile. It was the first time that ocean based, farm-raised salmon was recognized with that rating, and it reflects an industry-wide push to improve practices and increase sustainability. Lastly, two land based farmed salmon operations meet our growing practice standards, however it’s more cost prohibitive than wild salmon. For now, we’ll be sticking to wild salmon, and we hope this gave you some context for our decision. We’re committed to doing our best with each of these choices and we look forward to sharing more sourcing stories with you in the near future.

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