Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Verlasso Salmon: An Update

"We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch - we are going back from whence we came."
--John F. Kennedy

Everyone needs to eat more seafood but the stocks of wild seafood are insufficient to fulfill that need. Aquaculture is necessary and currently supplies about 50% of the world's seafood consumption. However, aquaculture can create problems and may not always be considered sustainable. The practice of aquaculture though continues to improve and we need to support those doing it well.

Last year, at the International Boston Seafood Show, I met with Scott Nichols, a Director at Verlasso Salmon, a salmon farm in Chile which seeks to be sustainable. Scott was very forthcoming, answering all of my questions. In my prior post, I explained their practices as well as described the taste of their salmon. I concluded that: "Verlasso seems to be headed in an excellent direction, working hard to be sustainable, and I applaud their efforts." This year, at Seafood Show, I met again with Scott to get an update on Verlasso and to check out their new product, Smoked Salmon.

As they are a new company, their focus last year was on acquiring distributors, to obtain companies to distribute their salmon across the country. They have not yet become nationally distributed but they are multiregional, and continue to seek distributors to fill in other regions. The closest distributor to Massachusetts is currently in Philadelphia, but they are still seeking a distributor in the Northeast.

Their new focus this year will be on connecting with retailers. They see chefs as thought leaders and have conducted numerous events to broaden the discussion about their product. They desire to help the counter staff as they feel that the point of sale conversation is vital. They want the counter staff to be succinct and thoughtful, and even provide them one sheets and wallet cards to better able explain Verlasso salmon. They also supply gill tags for the fish, both whole and fillets, which can be given to customers. The gill tags have QR codes on them to provide more information.

Scott made a compelling statement, that "fish cannot tell their own stories, so you have to tell it for them." That has always been one of my guiding principles when I write about the Seafood Show, telling the stories of fish that they cannot. It is what retailers, at restaurants, supermarkets and fish shops, also need to do, to explain the stories of the fish they sell. Such stories will help them sell more fish. Unfortunately, some retailers will resist this practice as they consider it too much work. Their failure is to their detriment.

For some retailers, price is also an issue, as it is with many consumers. The Verlasso salmon generally sells for about $15-$16 per pound, but it can be found cheaper as well. How do you overcome the price barrier? One way is to tell a compelling story about the fish, to provide reasons why the fish is worth the price. Each convert you can persuade with your stories may help to educate others.

As for some more technical matters about Verlasso, their “fish in, fish out” (FIFO) ratio remains at 1 to 1, an impressive result when many other salmon farms have a higher ratio, often 3:1 or more. This helps makes the farm more sustainable. Their pen density remains as low as previously noted and their double net system has still not had any escapes. Their Omega-3s are about 1.5-1.8% and the fat content is approximately 12%, which is higher than many wild salmon, usually around 8%, but lower than other farmed salmon which may have 17%-22%. This generally means Verlasso salmon has a cleaner taste than many other farmed salmons. On a positive note, Verlasso used to use chemically synthesized betacarotene to add color to their salmon but now use all natural betacarotene. Finally, their harvests have been even greater than expected.

According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch, most Farmed Salmon is listed as Avoid, though they have begun to note there are some exceptions. Verlasso has become part of a limited pilot program with the Monterey Bay Aquarium for an external assessment of their sustainability. The Aquarium is trying to become a bit more specific in their recommendations, as their broad stroke pronouncements have been criticized.

Scott noted that one of their biggest challenges was getting out their message as too many people see aquaculture as monolithic. Seafood Watch has contributed to that public perception with their general warnings, which often failed to consider specific exceptions. People need to realize that how their food is raised matters. Verlasso salmon is not the same as other farmed salmons, and it needs to be examined and assessed on its own merits rather than grouped together with all other salmon farms.

Verlasso continues to move in the right direction and it is worthy of your support.

I was served some Salmon En Papillote, atop rice, and it was as tasty as it was last year. A clean flavor, with a prominent salmon taste, and a good texture. This is the type of salmon which will appeal to all seafood lovers. Some other farmed salmons seem too fatty but this does not. Taste is vital and this salmon performs well in that regard. 

They have a new product, a Smoked Salmon, which they have created in partnership with Acme Smoked Fish, under the Blue Hill Bay label. This is all-natural and preservative free, and created with natural green tea, celery extracts and aromatic hardwood smoke. This is a mild smoked salmon with hints of a herbal taste that enhances the fish. They have gone for more subtlety than in-your-face flavors, and it worked for me.

What are your thoughts on Verlasso?


Frederick Wright said...

I'm learning to love salmon -- and would certainly pay a premium for a variety that is sustainably and naturally raised. I'll be watching for Verlasso to become available in Boston.

Richard Auffrey said...

Salmon tastes great, and is super healthy for you.

Anonymous said...

This fish is extremely special. We serve it at my restaurant and people are consistantly blown away. Delicious, fresh, and with a great story, it's worth the price. The only drawback is that people are resistant to try it because of the pejorative connotation of "farmed". I usually use the term "open water aquaculture" and once they try it, they're hooked!

Anonymous said...

Costco in the Bay Area of California is now featuring fresh Verlasso salmon at a reasonable price. The only glitch is you have to purchase 2+ lbs. or more per package. A great and flavorful alternative when King salmon is not in season.

Chef Michelle