September 26, 2012 | Back to: Local News

Calling back the salmon to the Yuba River

In this election year, we are bombarded with slogans and 30-second sound bites. Even food writers need good bumper sticker material. Here’s mine: “Just say NO to FFFF” or Fakey Flavored Farmed Fish.

Not all farmed fish are a flavor disappointment or an environmental hazard, but when it comes to salmon, the difference between farmed and wild caught is significant.

Atlantic farmed fish are raised in large-scale, densely populated net pens that pollute surrounding waters.

Because of the large demand for salmon, this practice of fish farming is expanding around the world, impacting our wild salmon, including those in the Pacific Northwest.

People often assume that eating farmed fish helps save our wild populations, but it actually has a reverse effect.

Chemicals, such as PCBs, DDT and mercury, have been banned in the United States for 30 years; however, these compounds biodegrade slowly and are still used in other parts of the world. They linger in our waterways, soil and the fatty flesh of fish and animals.

Farmed fish are fed the fatty leftover parts of harvested fish, which contain more than recommended amounts of these compounds.

Also, farmed fish don’t have that pink color that consumers expect, so red dye is added. Farmed salmon are, admittedly, much less expensive, but these organic pollutants accumulate in the body and can increase risk of cancer and immune system dysfunction.

Alaska has some of the most highly effective fishery standards in the world, and its wild salmon rates “best quality.”

The Environmental Defense Fund, in conjunction with the Monterey Bay Aquarium, posts on its website various fish and their health safety, as well as their ecological impact, so consumers can make informed choices. You can get information from the Seafood Selector on the website:

Most people think there is not much they can do to make a positive difference in our world, but every day we vote with our food dollars. Buying wild salmon supports the return of salmon to our rivers and the health of salmon in our oceans.

It gives peace of mind that one is getting the nutrients that they hoped for and not the pollutants.

As for the flavor difference, well, don’t believe me. Do a taste test. Buy a little of both and you’ll understand the differences in texture and flavor.

Locally, there was a time before Englebright Dam was built that salmon migrated up the 60 miles of the Yuba River as far as Sierra City to lay their eggs. Today, they access less than 24 miles.

The South Yuba River Citizens League (SYRCL) has worked for many years to maintain and protect the Yuba River watershed. SYRCL is negotiating and implementing projects to protect salmon habitat in the lower Yuba River where salmon currently exist.

Projects include increasing spawning habitat, restoring fish passage around Daguerre and Englebright dams and moderating the fluctuating seasonal flow of the river

SYRCL works closely with Western Aggregates. which owns much of the land below the Highway 20 bridge, local fishing groups and the Yuba County Water Agency.

I remember a golden autumn afternoon many years ago when a friend and I drove our sons to the Feather River for salmon season.

I still smile at that photo of the two 10-year-olds beaming and holding up their beautiful salmon. Packed into coolers, we headed home for an unforgettable feast.

If we want our grandchildren to have experiences like this, then it is necessary to take action now so that salmon don’t slip into extinction.

Salmon is a high protein food rich in micronutrients. It contains omega-3 fatty acids (as do other fish in lower amounts). There is a growing body of evidence that shows omega-3 fatty acids help maintain cardiovascular health, are important for prenatal and postnatal neurological development and may help reduce depression and decrease mental decline in older people.

Many doctors recommend that their patients eat salmon a couple times a week. For thousands of years. salmon was an abundant food source for native peoples and wildlife as well.

It is part of our cultural heritage and more of a California native than the majority of us.

Patti Bess is a local freelance writer and cookbook author. She has written and developed recipes for Land O Lakes publications, Weight Watchers, and more than 20 other magazines.

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The Union Updated Sep 26, 2012 07:13AM Published Sep 27, 2012 07:16AM Copyright 2012 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.