The Swinomish Fish Co. has found a purpose for the meat left on a salmon’s frame after it is filleted.
The tribally owned company is smoking and packaging the remaining meat into a new ready-to-eat product. The Native Catch brand salmon bacon should be in stores by mid-June, along with its new sockeye salmon jerky.
“We suspect that bacon is going to be a big seller out of the gates,” said Everette Anderson, vice president of marketing and sales for the company.
Other products in the works are snack sticks (think salmon Slim Jims) and salmon hot dogs.
“We’re producing from wild harvested raw material – and using what was typically considered scraps – some clever, tasty and unique products,” Anderson said.
The fish company has expanded since the tribe took over operations about five years ago. The cannery has been around since the late ’60s, but the renovated 60,000-square-foot building now processes fresh fish and caviar too. A larger dock accommodates more boats than before, and another extension may be built in the next year or so, Anderson said.
Smoking fish is not a new technology for tribal fishermen; 40 years ago, fishermen smoked fish for elders using two old smokers that are still housed in a back room at the plant.
“Salmon means so much to tribal fishermen,” said Lorraine Loomis, Swinomish fisheries manager. “It’s part of our culture to use the entire fish.”
Chuck Gerttula, smokehouse operator for the fish company, is in charge of developing the new products, making sure that no salmon goes to waste.
“We’re recovering as much meat as possible,” Gerttula said. “Nobody is making this salmon jerky quite the way we are.”
Already the Swinomish Fish Co. sells caviar to Asian, European and American markets, and recently opened up a market to sell milt to companies in Taiwan.
Chum roe makes a superb caviar, Anderson said. “Our process creates a flavor profile that is very well received by our customers,” he added.
To keep up with the increasing demand, the company buys from other native fishermen in the region, Alaska and First Nations in British Columbia.
The plant also intends to explore what is required to process more Dungeness crab.
“We work with local retailers who say they want our crab specifically if we cook it a certain way,” Anderson said.
One of those retailers is Bellingham-based grocer Haggen, which recently acquired 146 additional stores in Washington, California, Oregon, Arizona and Nevada.
“Haggen’s customers understand local and hyperlocal, and we look forward to continuing to build on that relationship,” Anderson said.
The fish company completed its British Retail Consortium certification last fall, passing with an ‘A’ rating for its canning operation. The certification is a growing requirement by retailers in 123 countries, recognizing that the plant meets quality, safety and operational standards.
Swinomish Fish Co. also meets the Marine Stewardship Council Chain of Custody Standard, which means that it is certified as an environmentally sustainable fishery with full traceability.
“These certifications certainly elevate our presence in the marketplace,” Anderson said.