Fresh has always been foremost in the fish business, yet seafood lovers nowadays want to know a lot more than the best-before date.
“Is it fresh? Is it wild? Is it local? People here are tuned in,” said Gina Fedora, manager of the newly opened Fisherman’s Market in Sahali. “They’re really wanting to know what the fish is and where it’s coming from.
They’ve very knowledgeable.”
This is landlocked Kamloops, of course, 400 kilometres from the briny deep, its traditions more firmly knotted to trout than the bounty from the coast.
Seafood specialty stores have come and gone in the past, but partners Geoff Austin and Adam Pearl — who opened their first Fisherman’s Market in Nelson a decade ago — appear to have landed a success story at Southgate mall. Customers queue up before displays of salmon, halibut, sable fish, fresh snapper, cod, sole, Dungeness crab and hand-peeled shrimp.
Even before Fedora took the job, people were asking whether she’d go back to her trade. They were obviously angling for the return of a seafood specialty store here. Pearl and Austin opened their second store in Kelowna only last year.
“They realized the Thompson-Okanagan is a busy place, and there was a need for things here and Kamloops didn’t have anything. It’s not a small city and it’s a fairly sophisticated city.”
Fedora and her husband are Lower Mainland exiles, who came to Kamloops to escape the rat race last year. Her roots are in Regina, where she started in the seafood business at age 15. For the past 20 years, she sold fresh seafood on Granville Island and knew one of the partners from the wholesale business there.
“I fell in love with Granville Island and I fell in love with fish,” she said.
She jumped at the chance to get back in the business. “It takes a lot of care and attention, and you have to have a real passion for it,” she said. “Twenty-five-plus years of experience and I’m still learning new things every day.”
Consumers are catching on, too, demanding much more information about the catch that lands on their plates.
And, Fedora noted, the city has its share of “foodies,” slang for gourmands who seek new food experiences.
“The trend, in the last five to 10 years, has been a huge explosion and awareness of where it’s coming from and how it’s processed.”
Sustainability has become a key consideration, and it’s no wonder. A generation ago, the oceans were the last great frontier on Earth, storehouses thought capable of sustaining the world’s population well into the future.
Since then, the myth of abundance has been scuttled, sunk by over-harvesting, habitat degradation and an inability, despite advancing science, to understand changes in the marine environment. There are concerns that Pacific salmon will eventually go the way of Atlantic cod.
“People are learning more and more that our oceans are not just a bottomless pit we can keep taking from.”
Customers want to know the product is fresh, yet they are also increasingly concerned that it be locally caught to minimize environmental impacts through transport.
Just last week, SeaChoice and Ocean Wise — two programs designed to support informed seafood choices — called on Canadians to support the sustainable seafood movement. They propose a national sustainable seafood day every March 18 to help turn the tide.
Fisherman’s Market is part of Ocean Wise, a Vancouver aquarium conservation program. Ocean Wise works with companies to select sustainable products and promote them to the public.
“Overfishing and unsustainable fishing practices are impacting us all — across Canada and around the world — particularly for those who rely upon seafood for their livelihood,” said Mike McDermid of the Vancouver Aquarium. “Our hope is to bring this concern to the forefront so that we’re all considering sustainable choices to help preserve seafood stocks that are quickly depleting.”
The provincial government is feeding the seafood trend as well with a buy-local program promoting ThisFish.
Ecotrust Canada’s ThisFish is a web-based seafood tracking system that connects consumers to harvesters. New funding announced last week is intended to expand the market potential for traceable B.C. seafood by engaging retailers and restaurants.
The new Sahali store caters to all tastes with exotic fare offered as well as local catches, but B.C.’s diverse harvest clearly dominates in the display cases.
“We’re definitely concentrating on sourcing as much local and fresh food as possible,” Fedora said. “Of course, we go worldwide, but we’re definitely looking for ways of doing things sustainably. We are definitely on that track.”
She pointed to Arctic char from Icy Waters, a land-based producer in Whitehorse. Increasingly, shoppers concerned about the ecological impacts of net-pen salmon farming are turning to fish reared through closed containment.
“It’s more expensive, but it’s just a better product and a lot easier on the environment,” Fedora said. “That is going to be a big part of the future.”