Copper River Salmon, the Best of the Alaskan Catch, is on Its Way to Select Markets

Salmon lovers, this is what you’ve been waiting for: highly prized fresh Copper River/Prince William Sound salmon will be available at select Hy-Vee stores starting May 21, signaling the beginning of the 2014 wild salmon season in Alaska.

From now through fall, Hy-Vee customers will find some of the best of the catch in the fresh seafood counter at selected stores. It’s all Responsible Choice, a strong start to our commitment to responsibly source all fresh and Hy-Vee brand fish and seafood by the end of 2015.

Because it’s from Alaska, where sustainability of the seafood industry – the state’s largest employer – is so important it’s written into the state Constitution, our customers also have the satisfaction of knowing that the salmon comes from the best managed fisheries in the world.

The Copper River salmon from Cordova, AK, has an intense taste that comes from the size of the Copper River, one of the largest rivers in the world, and its cold waters, and it is considered the best salmon on the market.

The Copper River/Prince William Sound Marketing Association has done a fantastic marketing job. Alaska Airlines flies in the first ceremonial fish to Seattle, where some of the cities top executive chefs compete for the best salmon recipe in a now annual tradition known as the Copper Chef Cook-Off.

All that hype has made Copper River such a recognizable brand that out customers sometimes mistakenly refer to it as a species instead of a geographic area. There are three species of salmon in the Copper River District, and this year, it’s estimated that 1.60 million sockeye, 22,000 king salmon, and 280,000 Coho will be caught in the short, 4 to 6 week season.

Various factors can affect the total catch, including careful monitoring of the salmon run by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Officials want to make sure enough salmon escape to make their return not only their natal river to spawn, but to the exact spot of their birth.

As the wild salmon season progresses, Hy-Vee’s customers will see various other species of salmon showing up in the seafood case. As more becomes available, prices will adjust accordingly.

Environmental Advocacy: We Can’t Just Kick the Can Down the Road on Bering Sea Canyons. We Must Protect Them Now.

As a leading provider of commercial seafood in the United States, Hy-Vee is taking a progressive approach on several key environmental advocacy initiatives that we expect will have a positive effect on the health of the oceans and the species that live and swim in them.

We have made a strong commitment to building a market for Responsible Choice seafood. This makes us an important stakeholder in discussions about how to best protect the health of ecosystems that harbor and nurture that seafood.

Here’s a recent example of how we’re using our sway:

Hy-Vee appealed to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) to approve protections for the Zhemchung and Pribilof canyons, which are carved into the Bering Sea shelf break, a unique ecoregion known as the Green Belt due to its extraordinary productivity.

The canyons contain abundant and diverse corals and sponges that provide valuable habitat for commercially important fish and other marine species. In many parts of the canyons, the deep sea corals can be over 1,000 years old. If stripped from the ocean floor or crushed by fishing gear, the corals are unlikely to will recover, creating a habitat deficit that is difficult if not impossible to regenerate.

Numerous fish and crab species depend upon canyon terrain for spawning and nursery areas, making these habitats important for sustaining species’ populations. Commercially important species that utilize the canyons for essential fish habitat include rockfish, Pacific cod, halibut, pollock and several species of crab.

Based on a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) assessment that said the geography, if not the habitat, of the canyons is unique and continuous study was warranted, the council decided on further study – the equivalent of kicking the can down the road.

Hy-Vee and a coalition of environmental groups and other stakeholders have taken the position that additional study isn’t the right tack. Protecting the canyons now is the equivalent of providing stakeholders with an insurance policy that can help preserve biodiversity as well as ensure the sustainability of fisheries and seafood supply.

Our leadership in advocacy on this issue may surprise some people. It’s as simple as this: we want to be able to offer our customers the species most impacted by non-sustainable management practices well into the future. If the experts we rely on urge more protection, we’re going to side with these approaches.

We can’t just protect one species at a time. We’ve made a commitment to other sea life and habitat, and one of the ways to accomplish this is to make sure all the species thrive.

Additional Resources

Key Takeaway from Seafood Expo in Boston: Sustainability is Expected, No Longer a Hot, In-Your-Face Topic

One of the greatest opportunities at the Seafood Expo North America (formerly the Boston Seafood Show) was found in the chance to talk face-to-face with the approximately 19,000 suppliers, processors and other professionals from around the world who attend this event.

Establishing that rapport makes the follow-up conversations much easier and more congenial.

For me, the key takeaway from the event in Boston is that sustainability isn’t the in-your-face, hot topic that it used to be. Everyone may not quite meet the same high standards that Hy-Vee and PDI have set with the Responsible Choice initiative, but everyone takes for granted that companies care about sustainability and are doing something about it. This is driven some by consumer demand, but primarily it’s due to competition for business between companies.

It was great to meet those domestic suppliers, the folks with boats on the water and processing plants, who are working directly with PDI and Hy-Vee to provide Alaskan King crab, wild salmon, because promotions around those species have been successful at bringing customers’ attention to Responsible Choice seafood.

At FishWise, we work with some of the better-acting companies and they are doing a great deal to advance conservation. These seafood suppliers from Alaska, who are leading the world in setting the standards for sustainability, appreciate that Hy-Vee is very direct about what its environmental standards are what companies need to provide for them.

They love that Hy-Vee does so much to draw attention to the way they do things. They know Hy-Vee appreciates quality. It’s kind of a mutual admiration society, which is rare.

At the expo, I also met with leaders of the Global Aquaculture Alliance, a certifying organization like the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC), to connect them with Hy-Vee and other distributors and help them better understand where the other is coming from. It’s a tough topic, because so many people are under the impression that farmed fish is not sustainable in any way, and we need to work to overcome that stereotype. The folks at GAA are very open to dialogue, and that will help to move it along.

Another prominent event during the Seafood Show was a panel discussion focused on improvement projects that companies like Hy-Vee and its vendors are supporting, like wild gulf shrimp. The shrimping industry can be dirty and have a lot of issues, yet customers want shrimp. Hy-Vee is doing the right thing by supporting practices that reduce turtle bycatch. The vendor Hy-Vee works with is making sure there’s a smaller amount of turtle bycatch in its fisheries.

Responsible Choice Seafood: What’s the Difference?

Allow me to preface this post by stating that all of Hy-Vee’s seafood – labeled with a Responsible Choice logo or not – is safe to eat and of the highest quality.

Think back to the last time you were standing in front of the seafood counter in your local Hy-Vee store. You may have noticed that, while many of Hy-Vee’s seafood products have the new ‘Responsible Choice’ label, there are some that do not. What is the difference between products with a Responsible Choice label and those without a label?

The Responsible Choice label identifies seafood products that come from well-managed sources that minimize the environmental impacts of harvesting or farming. Specifically, these products are rated either Green (Best Choice) or Yellow (Good Alternative) by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program, or are certified to an equivalent environmental standard (for example, the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification).

Products that do not have a Responsible Choice label are either Unrated or Red rated by the Seafood Watch Program or are not yet certified to an environmental standard equivalent to Green or Yellow ratings. Some seafood is not yet produced at an environmental standard that meets Hy-Vee’s conditions for a label. Hy-Vee is actively working to improve these seafood items by engaging with fisheries and farms to enhance their environmental performance, or switching products to more sustainable alternatives if improvements cannot be made. As Hy-Vee progresses towards the 2015 goal, you will see more and more products with the Responsible Choice label.

Hy-Vee’s staff is going through extensive training as a part of the new seafood program, so you can feel comfortable asking any questions about the source, quality, and type of seafood at your local Hy-Vee store. Support the health of your family and healthy oceans by purchasing items with the Responsible Choice label.

Recipe Spotlight: Mt. Cook Alpine Salmon Will Change Your Mind About Farm-Raised Fish

Farm-raised cold-water fish like salmon can get a bad rap. Conventional wisdom is that it can have a different taste than wild salmon, but advances in aquaculture are closing the gap.

One of the best options in the Hy-Vee seafood case is Mt. Cook Alpine salmon, which is disrupting expectations about farm-raised salmon in a big way. This fish is raised in a canal fed by glacier runoff from New Zealand’s Southern Alps. There’s no human interaction in these clean, fast-flowing waters, no runoff from human activities and the water is so pure that you can drink it both before and after the fish leave.

The fish in these waters are disease-free; never get antibiotics, hormones or other chemicals; and are killed in a humane way that minimizes unnecessary stress and pain, a method that ensures better flesh quality.

Mt. Cook salmon is also incredibly healthy. The Omega-3 fatty acids in this fish are comparable with wild-caught salmon, and have three times the amount of Omega 3 oils as Atlantic salmon and in comparison, has very low intramuscular fat.

This flavor of this fish is so clean that I hate to mask it with heavy sauces. Just make a light crust of seasonings, sear the fish and finish it off in the oven. Try this:


Seared Mt. Cook Alpine Salmon with Garlic Spinach

All you need:

  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp fresh cracked black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp dry mustard
  • 1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 4 (5 oz each) Mt. Cook salmon fillets, skinned
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp shallot, minced
  • 1 to 2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
  • 4 cups fresh spinach
  • salt and black pepper, to taste
  • squeeze of fresh lemon

All you do:

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Combine brown sugar, salt, black pepper, cumin, dry mustard and cinnamon in a small bowl. Rub spice mixture on the top side (non-skin) of the salmon fillets.
  3. Heat an oven-proof sauté pan over medium-high heat; add 1 tablespoon olive oil and sear fillets, rub-side down, until fish is browned, about 2 minutes. Flip fillets and place pan in oven; finish cooking for 5 to 6 minutes or until fish flakes easily.
  4. While fish is in oven, heat another sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add butter, shallots and garlic. Sauté until garlic is fragrant and add spinach; sauté until slightly wilted; season with salt and pepper. Serve spinach with salmon fillet on top; squeeze fresh lemon on fish just before serving.

Recipe Spotlight: Alaska King Crab Legs with Dipping Sauces

I enjoy being part of a company that features fish and shellfish caught in a sustainable way, so it can be enjoyed by people for generations to come.

That’s the case with our Alaska king crab legs, which can be prepared with a variety of dipping sauces. Crab legs are a good choice for entertaining, but also for everyday eating.

Don’t be intimidated. They’re very easy to prepare. All you need is a nice, big stock pot and some kitchen shears. Just bring 2 to 3 inches of water to a rapid simmer, throw the crab legs in and cover. It’s OK if some of the legs are sticking out of the pot.

When they’re done, tear the crab legs at the joint. Flip them to the smoother side and snip them open with the kitchen shears. Break the crab legs into pieces and open them to retrieve the meat.


Alaska King Crab Legs with Dipping SaucesAlaska King Crab Legs with Dipping Sauces

All you need:

3 to 4 pounds of Alaska king crab legs (snow or Dungeness also work), thawed or frozen

All you do:

1. To prepare the crab, fill a 16- to 20-ounce stock pot with water. Bring to a boil and add crab legs. Reduce the heat; cover and simmer for 8 to 10 minutes for frozen crab or 3 to 4 minutes for thawed crab, until heated through. Drain and serve with the dipping sauces, see recipes below.

Rouille Sauce

All you need:

  • 1/3 cup bottled roasted red peppers
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 2/3 cup low-fat mayonnaise
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

All you do:

1. Combine the peppers and garlic in a food processor and process until well minced. Pulse in the remaining ingredients until well combined.

Basil-Mint Pesto Sauce

All you need:

  • 2 cups fresh basil leaves
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh mint leaves
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 3 tbsp toasted walnuts
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 3 1/2 tsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

All you do:

1. Combine basil, mint, oil, walnuts, garlic and lemon juice in a food processor; puree until smooth. Add Parmesan and pulse until well combined. For a creamier sauce, combine 1/4 cup of the Basil-Mint Pesto sauce with 1/2 cup low-fat mayonnaise.

Mediterranean Dip

All you need:

  • 1 (6.5 oz) jar artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup low-fat sour cream
  • 1 cup low-fat mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup chopped drained oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes
  • 1 (4 oz) can sliced olives, drained
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh chives OR 2 tbsp. sliced green onions

All you do:

1. Blend the artichoke hearts, Parmesan cheese, sour cream, mayonnaise, sun-dried tomatoes, olives and chives in a bowl. Place in ovenproof baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees until bubbly, if desired.

Butter Sauce

All you need:

  • 1/2 cup unsalted melted butter
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 3/4 tsp garlic salt
  • 1/2 tsp dried dill weed
  • dash white pepper

All you do:

1. Blend ingredients together in a bowl.

The dips may be prepared up to two days in advance. Reheat the butter sauce as needed.

Sustainable Business 101: Why Use Industry Leading Sustainable Seafood Practices?

Right now, certain types of seafood are overfished or harvested in a way that causes undue stress to the environment and other sea life. At Hy-Vee, we believe retailers need to step up and take care of the planet, take care of its ecosystems and leave them better than we found them.

That’s what we’re doing with our Responsible Sourcing Commitment in our Seafood Procurement Policy. Our aim with the new policy is for Hy-Vee to be an unquestioned destination for sustainable seafood and, by the end of 2015, all of our high-quality fresh and Hy-Vee brand frozen seafood will be responsibly sourced.

We don’t want our legacy to be that we didn’t respect the environment. Instead, Hy-Vee wants to be a leader in this arena and inspire other companies. The end goal is for everyone to get there. Hopefully, we can be one of those companies that can guide the entire industry towards sustainability.

This is a journey we’re on with our suppliers. We’re doing this to help them get better. To get there together, we’ve developed our commitment to Responsible Choice seafood procurement with FishWise, a non-profit group that supports sustainability through environmentally responsible business partners.

When consumers see the Responsible Choice label, they can be assured that they are buying seafood that is rated “green” (best choice) or “yellow” (a good alternative) by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Program. These ratings are derived from scientific and peer reviewed assessments that analyze the effects the fishery or fish farm has on the environment and other species.

Couple that with Hy-Vee’s commitment to the best and freshest goods, and the Responsible Choice labeling gives our customers complete confidence that what they buy is supporting the health of their families and that of the oceans.

We want customers to know that it’s where we say it’s from, it’s the freshest they can get, that there is integrity behind it, and that it’s our mission to do business in a way that promotes the well-being of our customers, employees, communities and the global environment.

Responsible Sourcing: It’s About Doing the Right Thing

Boat on Alaskan waters

At Hy-Vee, we’ve made a commitment to consumers and to the industry to responsibly source all of our fresh and Hy-Vee brand frozen seafood by the end of 2015. In the long-run, our sourcing standards mean healthier oceans and better seafood.

We think this commitment to sustainable seafood is both a corporate responsibility and a continuation of Hy-Vee’s policy to respond to consumer demand. Our job is to do the right thing. It’s part of our mantra and our brand to do the right thing for the environment and sea life. We think that’s important, and it’s becoming more and more evident that our customers are concerned with where their food comes from, how it’s raised and how it’s caught.

Customers will be able to see our commitment through our Responsible Choice labeling, shelf strips and other signage in the fresh seafood case and on our frozen Hy-Vee brand fish.

When I talk to customers about sourcing sustainable seafood or, as we call it, responsible choice seafood, they usually have three questions:

  1. What does responsible sourcing mean?
    It means purchasing seafood from fisheries and fish farms that minimize damage to the environment and other sea life, so we can ensure it will be around for future generations to enjoy.
  2. Why is Hy-Vee doing this?
    It’s simple. Hy-Vee is committed to doing the right thing. It’s the right thing for the people who work in the seafood industry and it’s the right thing for the environment. It’s a good thing for Hy-Vee, it’s a good thing for the customers and it’s a good thing for the people we do business with.
  3. If it doesn’t have Responsible Choice on the label, is it OK to eat?
    Absolutely. We’re working with our vendors to make positive changes to improve the sustainability of fisheries and farms that do not yet meet our responsible sourcing commitment. However, It’s important to not to confuse this with quality. We’ve always stood for quality and we are always going to have great quality seafood.

This is more about taking care of the environment and protecting the long-term viability of seafood species, and to make sure that happens – at least on our watch.