There's an old adage, I think, about how if you love hot dogs, or maybe it's sausages, you should never learn how they're made. The point being that if you really knew what went on behind the scenes of any animal-based food production system, you'd probably eat only leaves, twigs, and berries. And maybe sticks.
And I love wild salmon. Love it so much that I overcame my dislike of boats to go out on a vessel and watch a fisherman reel out her enormous net. Love it so much that I watched her pull in three sockeye in just as many minutes, yank out their gills, and toss them to the boat's floor where they wriggled and writhed, pounded and bled until all was quiet, and their clear eyes went still.
Now I can think of a lot of things that are more pleasant than witnessing an animal die in my presence, but if I'm going to write about wild Copper River salmon, if I'm going to set myself up as some kind of authority, it's good for me to know what the hell I'm talking about. True, I talk about a lot of things, like, say, flour, without having a clue what it's like to be a gluten particle or a shaft of wheat, but when the opportunity came for me to learn about these fish and observe them getting caught, killed, and processed, I signed on and steeled my nerves.
Copper River Seafoods, a Cordova, Alaska processor owned by three local fishermen, was buzzing when we arrived. Tall, young men, the vast majority from the Ukraine and the Czech Republic, broke down hundreds of fish one by one, tossing the roe and the tails, the fins and the bones, in separate buckets as Gwen Stefani boomed from the overhead sound system. The men wore identical rubber overalls, yellow suspenders, hairnets, gloves and boots. They went about their business jovially, but with a focused productivity. It was an assembly line, sure, and there were fish parts in every corner of the room, but somehow, everything had its place.
And you know what? It smelled clean.
Yes, there was salmon sludge on the washers and plenty of scraps on the floor, but I think it's a pretty sure bet that at the end of every shift that place gets sanitized to within an inch of its life.
So while I'm truly sorry that a wild salmon has to die for my sins every time I eat a Copper River fillet, my eyes are wide open, and at least for the moment, at least for right now, I can live with what I've seen.