Tag Archives: splake

Transgenic Trangression

Sooke Harbour Salmon

So, fish. Let’s talk about their current situation. Wild fish good; genetically modified fish not so good. Pretty simple. Lately I have been receiving a smattering of emails, requests to sign petitions, and Facebook group membership suggestions all relating to the Wild Pacific Salmon, now being considered as BC’s symbol of strength, resilience, and culture. Seems reasonable as Pacific Salmon can be found on almost any menu, in any museum of BC history or culture, and was once found in every river. It also seems reasonable, because the wild population of these beautiful creatures are in a bit of a pickle and in need of some more serious recognition and protection. With the introduction of farmed salmon, and now transgenic species of the fish escaping from the confines of lice-infested, waste-riddled, open-net cage farms, the wild stock is in serious danger. More so than ever before. A friend of mine who has been in BC for most of his life, closely connected to the population of all things edible, has written to me that there are hardly any fish this year, noting also that he has been involved in the fight to save the species for decades. Yes, global warming, over-fishing, and contamination of our waterways all contribute to the threat, but in the past several years, genetic engineering is rearing its even uglier head, beyond the scope of the endless fields of corn, wheat, soy and cotton, brings this problem to a whole other level.

It is generally franken-salmon, a relative to Atlantic Salmon, being raised on the Pacific Coast in net-pens along the coast of BC. But as Les Blumenthal writes for the Washington Post, “by some estimates, 400,000 to 1 million Atlantic salmon have escaped into the wild from the 75 or so net-pen operations in British Columbia. A Purdue University study using a computer model — and widely criticized by the biotechnology industry — showed that if 60 transgenic fish bred in a population of 60,000 wild fish, the wild fish would be extinct in 40 generations.” I don’t know how you might feel about this, but from what I understand, anything that becomes extinct leaves a trail of consequences that is impossible to predict. Predators and prey both challenged by the void.

This introduction of a genetically manipulated acquroversy has lead me to ponder the situation closer to home.

Delicious Smoked Wild Salmon

I have been trying to figure out whether there is any difference between what’s happening in the rivers and ocean of the west coast, and our very own Great Lakes. I am a huge fan of Splake. It’s a cross between a lake trout and a brook trout, which I have written about ad nauseum. I love its flaky, orange flesh, it’s tiny little scales and clear bright eyes. I love the way it holds up on a grill and cooks evenly from the outside inwards on a hot pan. I adore the delicate flavour and not-too-overly-fatty mouth feel that seems to melt on the tongue, requiring little in the way of chewing or teeth. But what, prey tell, is the difference between that of our local fish scientists introducing such a mule to our waters to repopulate the lakes and the genetic engineering of salmon in BC? This intervention seems less than favourable when dissected and deboned. Perhaps the trout is in cahoots with the zebra mussel mafia and is quietly planning yet another unwelcome and prolific invasion. Perhaps the few native fish we have left in the lakes will be bullied and picked on by the new kids, who generally grow faster than their predecessors, and will give up the fight, only to be devastated by the conquerors. There doesn’t seem to be much in the way of research on the subject, and I shy away from quoting Wikipedia most of the time, so I will leave the question open. But to me, the use of the terms “man-created hybrid” when associated with a species of any organism, is a red flag (http://members.shaw.ca/amuir/splake.html). Does anyone out there have any idea if my fear is valid?

There are ways for us to fight upstream with the government and protest bogus policy and sustainability-washing certifications, that eco-organizations are doling out like candy so that companies can sell more product to unsuspecting salmon eaters. Alexandra Morton, who has done extensive research on salmon stocks, private and public policies has sent out the letter following this post. If you feel particularly strongly about the remarkable power that massive acquaculture companies have over our environment, our governance, and our food system, please take the time to read and react to Alexandra’s call for help.

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Jake the Splake

Jake the Splake

Our mascot, Jake, slung on the bottom shelf of the fridge, haphazardly stuffed into a ziploc bag, looked longingly at me as I pondered dinner this evening. Having risen from an unplanned and extensive Sunday nap, my belly still growling from Mother’s Day Brunch and a week of recipe testing, dinner parties, and severe competition, I couldn’t decide what to prepare. The jar of crunchy peanut butter and the loaf of sourdough rye, well past its best before date, seemed to be a good option. But then, Jake caught my eye again through his ziploc jail cell and I mustered all the energy left in me to do the daunting.

I had not yet gone through the process of cleaning, scaling, boning, and filleting a whole fish. From tooth to tail, I got my hands dirty, carefully unwrapping the perfectly formed specimen. This little, 8lb fish was nicknamed Jake by Chef Corbin on the set of a show that Amanda and I just filmed for the Food Network. Jake became the joke on set, he was coddled by an alarmingly enthusiastic etiquette “expert”, swung like a bat in the kitchen, shown off to complete idiots to help them understand that food is magnificent, and then basically forgotten when we wrapped, and had to whip the set (our friend’s kitchen) back into tip top shape when I threw him into my knapsack.

On Thursday afternoon, I had the ultimate pleasure of going to Dufferin Grove market with a production company’s $350.00 to spend on most of the ingredients we needed for our big do on Friday. I had ordered 4lb of filleted splake from Andrew and Natasha Akiwenzie, and asked also for a small whole fish so that we could give our guests a visual of where their food came from. Freshly caught that morning in Georgian Bay, Jake’s eyes glimmering and crystal clear, were ready for a camera debut.

Zara and parts of Jake

I referred to my trusty Fannie Farmer cookbook for the play by play on how to prepare a fish. Step One – cleaning, easy peasy, very little blood, and Andrew had already made the first cut up the belly, so not very difficult at all. Step Two – scaling. At first I couldn’t even tell if their were scales on little Jake. They were so small, and in my dimly lit kitchen I was utterly confused, but after figuring out the correct angle of my dull knives, I quickly got the hang of it and scales were coming out like a golden retriever’s fur in springtime! Unfortunately I have probably the most dull knives in the universe, so Step Three – taking the fins off and boning, proved to be difficult. I finally got preliminary cuts in around the fins, and then ripped them out with my fingers. Boning the fish with a dull knife was also pretty awkward. I had to peel away the flesh from the bones, scraping around each one to release it from the fillet. It certainly didn’t end up being two perfect, shiny, smooth fillets fit for Whole Foods, but I did it, and lightly seasoned with salt, pepper, a good rub of olive oil and a sprinkling of rosemary from the garden, I am very pleased with the results!

Perhaps this is inspiration enough to arrange a fish and seafood prep workshop. I think that would be fun, and lord knows I could use some serious instruction. Anyone interested?