Does Onboard Handling Practices Affect Salmon Quality
Does Onboard Handling Practices Affect Salmon Quality? Absolutely! How the fish are treat from the moment they are pulled from the water affects quality.
Where Onboard Practices Start
It starts with the fishing boat, where the skipper has instilled a culture of good onboard handling practices.
Seafood quality cannot be improved once the fish leaves the water; it can only be maintained. As soon as the fish lands on the boat, the clock is ticking to maintain quality.
How to Properly Maintain Quality
To maintain it properly, it should be handled in a way that avoids bruising. The fish should be bled and then chilled in refrigerated seawater or iced so that the fish’s core temperature gets down near 32°F as soon as possible. This will slow down bacteria growth and the decomposition process.
Every fishery is different in how they address onboard handling practices and this can vary widely among boats in the same fishery.
In Bristol Bay, where I fish, the best quality comes from boats, like mine, using good onboard handling practices.
Here are examples of two different approaches to fish handling in the Bristol Bay Sockeye Salmon Fishery with drastically different outcomes.
What are Good Onboard Handling Practices?
As the fish come onboard, we pick the fish out of the net place them onto a salmon slide, a vinyl tarp. This cushions the fish as they are picked out of the net, to avoid bruising.
The fish are then bled and put into the fish holds where they float in 32°F refrigerated seawater to bring down the fish’s core temp as rapidly as possible.
The fish are then delivered to tenders within 12 hours of being caught. A tender is a larger boat that is used to transport the fish from the fishing grounds to a shore-based processor. They have flooded fish holds with chilled seawater that is typically around 33°F.
Ideally, the fish are caught, delivered to a tender, transported to the processing plant, filleted, pin boned and frozen within 24-36 hours of being caught.
What are Bad Onboard Handling Practices?
As the fish come on board, there are no salmon slides or rubber mats to cushion the blow. This means the fish are picked onto a hard aluminum or fiberglass deck. This results in bruising. This bruising not visible on the outside of the fish; it is hidden just inside the skin. A deep bruise can show through an entire fillet.
Additionally, the fish are not bled. They are then thrown into a dry fish hold without chilled water or ice to keep the catch cold. Moreover, these fish are kept in fish holds that are located behind the engine room. Therefore, instead of chilling the fish to maintain quality, the fish are heated and subject to faster deterioration and increased bacterial growth.
When these fish are delivered to the tender, they could be 60 degrees or warmer. Nothing can be done to undo the mistreatment of this fish. This will end up and inferior product with a reduced shelf life and a bad customer experience.
Leader Creek Fisheries
My fleet is part of Leader Creek Fisheries. We have a cooperative relationship with the processor that buys our fish. We have a profit share agreement.
We also have a set of standards that we as fishermen have to maintain to receive all the possible quality incentives. We need to bleed, use salmon slides, and deliver fish that are less than 39°F to receive the top price.
The processor has quality control inspectors on the tenders to hold the fishermen accountable. If a boat delivers warm fish, does not use a salmon slide, or does not bleed their fish, the price they get paid is negatively impacted.
I have seen years when all the incentives added up to 45% of the final price. Needless to say, it is very rare that I do not receive all my quality incentives. The financial incentives are motivating on their own, but equally is the proper treatment of each fish and the quality of product I sell my customers.