Rabbitbrush Rambler: Fish facts

Even during the icy months fishermen were trying their luck at Mountain Home and Big Meadow Reservoir. And this summer, who wouldn’t love to get out and catch a nice trout from one of our streams?

Native fish in Colorado nearly disappeared during the 1800s, when mining camps boomed and towns and cities were being built. Fish hatcheries then came into existence in Colorado, first the national one at Leadville, next privately-operated ones in our area, and finally the state’s, which today hatch about 90,000,000 I’ve read.

In the Gay Nineties with native fish nearly gone, landlocked Coloradans tried to satisfy their yen for seafood by eating oysters that came in little bottles and could be ordered in bars and fancy restaurants. The oceans’ fish that reached here at all was smoked, salted, or dried. Now we have frozen and canned fish from many places that we buy easily at grocery stores.

Some kinds have been fished in oceans for long ages, and others have strange names I had never heard until recently although they might have been swimming in faraway places with different names for a long time. And then there are all those boxes of frozen products called “fish” with unrevealed identities.

I’ll be focusing here on one kind—salmon—because it has been available at special prices in our stores during Lent. Listing salmon in descending order of quality and price, salmon are chinook (or king), coho, sockeye, pink, and keta (also called dog fish by fishermen who throw it to their dogs as I now have learned).

Chinook is seldom seen here, but pink is often found in cans. Sometimes I see and buy coho or sockeye, but I had never even heard of keta until recently, although I might have eaten some in the past, unbeknownst.

Then a few days ago I bought a box of frozen salmon called keta that had a sketch on the front with Alaskan Jack in his knit cap, beard, and friendly smile. Who could resist that?

It wasn’t until I got home and read the very fine print on the box that I learned the contents were a product of China, not Alaska. Then I got busy and researched what keta is.

Actually, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that, with long, slow cooking, the keta tasted quite good. But next time I’ll try to step up a notch or two when selecting a variety of salmon.

At the stores I see frozen packages of several other kinds of salt-water fish such as flounder, pollock, sole, and even cod. Most is good, but occasionally it tastes a bit fishy, as if it had traveled too far or been stored too long, so you take your chances. My advice: Examine packages as carefully as possible.

I looked at a can of a popular brand of tuna and read in the fine print that it was a product of Thailand. Well, okay, at least I knew there are regulations in place to require information about some sources, but there is much more that we consumers should know.

Along with identifiable sources, we need to see expiration dates clearly stated. We also should learn what’s good or supposedly only so-so about seafood, including the farmed fish.

We should understand why populations of ocean fish have dwindled so severely that many are disappearing. We also should learn which countries do not have international agreements about fishing or choose to ignore them.

We should care that a lot of the water of fisheries is polluted and why, and we should support efforts to get it cleaned up. The causes are too numerous to discuss here.

We should know that some fleets use harmful methods and equipment for catching fish with enormous, deep nets or with extremely long hooked lines, not to mention what becomes of fish and other aquatic life that is caught more or less accidentally.

We need to recognize that not every country, processor, distributor, or worker is careful about the handling, inspection, display, and freshness of fish. Poor safety practices exist, though.

For all those reasons and others, I prefer my seafood and fresh-water fish of every kind, from shrimp to trout, be cooked for a whole lot longer than many cooks allow. What’s the rush? Besides, I think fish tastes better when it’s cooked slowly and gently.

Definitely, none of that raw fish for me.


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