I read with great interest Don Johnson's recent piece on deceptively labeling Alaska salmon as "organic." He is absolutely correct in his analysis. This is not the first time this "organic" authenticity issue has been raised against the
state salmon industry. Federal labeling laws do not permit use of the word "organic" in this situation.
On a related note closer to home, the authenticity of the moniker "Kenai Wild" must be challenged for similar reasons. The sockeye salmon being sold under the branding project are being marketed as wild native fish to distinguish them from the inferior, artificially reared salmon from Chile, Norway and British Columbia which have glutted salmon markets worldwide. This is a wonderful project that should help to create lucrative niche markets for commercially caught Cook Inlet sockeye.
The problem is that a significant number of the branded fish are not truly "wild" as the project's name would otherwise suggest. Kasilof stock is heavily enhanced with sockeye that start out life in an artificially reared hatchery environment. The same can be said of Kenai stock returning to Hidden Lake Creek. Sockeye from both stocks are captured in the commercial fishery, and an unknown number of these hatchery sockeye are processed in the branding project. While probably not intentional, the name Kenai Wild is undeniably deceptive. The unsuspecting buyer is paying top dollar for a less-than-genuine product.
To restore credibility to the project, hatchery fish must be excluded from branding. Fish managers would then have to either stop stocking these river systems with hatchery sockeye, or alternatively, begin a mass-marking project (adipose fin clip) prior to releasing smolts in order to identify returning hatchery adults for exclusion from the project.
If these steps are not taken, then in fairness to prospective fish buyers, the name Kenai Wild should be abandoned.
Francis V. Estalilla, M.D.
Former Kenai resident
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