West Coast Albacore A to Z

With albacore season in full swing, it seems like a good time to rerun this post from 2011.

Wind off the ocean whipped through the rigging on his boat, and sea lions barked in the background as albacore tuna fisherman Rick Goché recalled growing up on Tillamook Bay on Oregon’s north coast.

“I’ve been fish crazy since I can remember,” he said. “When I was old enough to make my way down to the creek, I was fishing with a safety pin and a string. I can still remember when I got my first factory-made hook.”

Goché's boat, the Peso II.

Goché grew up to be a fisherman; today, he fishes the Pacific Northwest’s deep, abundant waters, casting off from Coos Bay for two to six weeks at a time. It’s hard work, and definitely not child’s play. “When you’re a hundred, 200, 300 miles offshore, it’s not like you can duck into a port when the weather gets bad,” he says. 

His brother, Larry, fishes with him, and his son, his daughter, and his grandson have taken turns on the boat as well. He has hopes that his daughter Lauren, who will be working on the tuna boat this summer, may eventually take up fishing as a career.

“Even though she won’t be on the boat,” he said, “it’ll be cool to be on the water with her.”

Today a few boats are woman-owned and run.

The average age of a fishboat owner is 62 (Goché is 57—“I’m one of the young guys,” he says), and the industry has had trouble attracting younger people into a career that not only is dangerous but also requires hard physical labor and long periods away from home.

Another issue facing the industry is consumer awareness, a concern voiced by chef Eric Jenkins while he was handing out samples of hot-off-the-grill wild West Coast albacore outside a Portland-area Whole Foods market. “I’ve had a couple of people say they won’t eat fish because of the mercury,” he said.

It’s a sentiment echoed by Wayne Heikkila, a second-generation albacore fishboat owner and currently executive director of the Western Fishboat Owners Association (WFOA). “[People] don’t know tuna from albacore, or skipjack from yellowtail.”

Fresh-canned West Coast albacore is only cooked once.

The tuna most of us grew up eating in casseroles and sandwiches was probably skipjack, which is caught on giant factory ships that operate in the deep, tropical oceans of the world and is sold under brand names like StarKist, Bumblebee, and Chicken of the Sea. Nearly all of those ships are longline fisheries, which tow a fishing line several miles long with thousands of hooks baited at regular intervals along its length. The problem with this method is that it produces significant bycatch—meaning that it also hooks endangered and threatened sea turtles, seabirds, marine mammals, sharks, and other fish besides skipjack.

The tuna caught in these deep waters are several years old and can weigh 40 to 60 pounds. They have absorbed mercury and other toxins, enough to cause the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency to advise pregnant women, nursing mothers, and young children to limit their intake of the fish.

Those warnings have caused big headaches for the West Coast albacore industry.

Line-caught West Coast albacore is MSC certified as sustainable.

That’s because the advisories don’t distinguish between the albacore caught in the deeper oceans and those younger and smaller tuna caught off the West Coast of the United States and Canada. Ranging in age from three to five years old and weighing 12 to 25 pounds, these younger albacore simply have not spent enough time in the ocean environment to contain the levels of mercury found in the larger, older fish.

Heikkila is frustrated that so much of the albacore caught off our own coast is exported to Japan for sushi, and that Northwest foodies would rather buy a can of albacore tuna from Spain—produced, ironically, from West Coast albacore that is exported to that country and shipped back to stores here—than albacore caught and canned on their own coastline.

“We’re trying to get consumers to eat more of the local product,” Heikkila said. Approximately 16,000 to 23,000 tons of albacore are caught per year. “It’s crazy—we send 80% to 90% of it to other countries and then the U.S. consumer has to buy it from overseas. That money could go into local fishermen’s pockets.”

Grilled albacore loin.

What’s more, Northwest consumers are generally unaware that these local fish are caught one at a time using what’s called a pole-and-line or troll-and-jig method. This approach employs 10 to 15 lines of nylon cord measuring six to 100 feet long that are towed behind a boat. Each line has a barbless “jig” or lure at the end that is attached to a double barbless hook. When a fish bites the jig, the fisherman hauls it by hand into the boat, allowing the fishermen to keep only “right-size” fish and eliminating bycatch.

The U.S. and Canadian albacore fisheries in the North Pacific, made up of mostly small, family-owned boats like Rick Goché’s, received a boost last year when Seafood Watch, a program of the Monterey Bay Aquarium that evaluates the ecological sustainability of wild-caught and farmed seafood, listed U.S. and Canadian troll- and pole-caught albacore from the North Pacific as a “Best Choice” due to negligible bycatch and the healthy stock of albacore in the region.

The MSC label guarantees the fish is sustainably caught.

But the biggest shift in public awareness may come from the announcement by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), which has certified the Canadian Highly Migratory Species Foundation (CHMSF), an albacore fishery of Canadian-based boats, and the U.S.-based WFOA as sustainable and well-managed.

“It’s a very rigorous, on-site process that looks at a fishery as opposed to a sweeping view of a species,” said Kerry Coughlin, the Regional Director for the Americas of the MSC. “It’s our view that’s how you get a very rigorous assessment process that’s accurate, and it’s how, in some cases where fisheries aren’t sustainable, you’re going to bring about change on the water.”

And when they see the blue MSC label in their grocer’s seafood case or on a can of albacore, “consumers can have the assurance that it is an environmentally responsible choice,” Coughlin said. And, because they come from younger fish, the fresh loins of albacore available from July through October at most retailers contain more have more “puppy fat,” as an industry spokesperson called it.

Many cooks can their own albacore.

“I think it’s moister,” Jenkins said. “It seems to have higher fat levels, particularly concentrated in the belly.” His suggestion to consumers buying a whole loin is to ask their butcher to keep the belly meat on, adding that many butchers either keep it for themselves even cut it out, which he considers a travesty.

Locally canned albacore would be almost as much of a shock to most shoppers. The major-brand tuna on their grocery shelves was caught and frozen at sea, then thawed at a cannery and cooked in big steamers, where it loses much of its natural juices and fats. It is then packed in cans and cooked again, requiring the addition of water or oil to keep it moist.

That contrasts with most local tuna, which is packed in cans when it’s fresh and cooked only once, sealing in the natural juices and not requiring the addition of oil or water to keep it moist.

Between MSC certification and a growing concern among consumers about where their food comes from, families that depend on the North Pacific albacore are seeing a brighter future for their children, and a way of life that they prize.

“On a boat, you have to have all your senses attuned to your boat and the fish and your gear, but what it comes down to is stay alive and fill up the boat,” said Rick Goché. “When I pull away from the dock and I cross the bar and I feel the ocean lifting the boat, I leave everything behind as much as possible. Sure, I miss my family, but I don’t miss all the complexities of being on land.”

Top photo of line-caught albacore from Tre-Fin Dayboat Seafood.

Restaurant Memories: The Corn Soup That Made Me Swoon

For many people, their strongest memories center around firsts: the first time they rode a bike, their first car, their first kiss.

Chef Benjamin Schade.

For me, many of those memorable firsts center around—no surprise here—food. The first time I had spit-roasted whole pig cooked over a fire by my uncles at a tiny cabin in the Blue Mountains; my first taste of kimchi at a snowy mountainside inn on a student trip to Korea; my first pesto pasta in the early days of Papa Haydn's eastside location that was so packed with garlic I could still taste it three days later—which I adored, by the way!

I remember being floored by the broth served with rockfish made by chef Serge Selbe at the London Grill that was as clear as water but was intensely infused with the flavor of fresh tomatoes—he described it as filtered gazpacho. More recently my mind was blown by the corn soup made by Benjamin Schade when he was chef at the late, lamented Old Salt Marketplace in northeast Portland.

Slice kernels off cobs.

Regular readers know I'm a fool for anything with fresh corn in it, and this bowl was the essence of corn in a smooth, creamy, velvety robe, adorned only with a pat of butter melting seductively over its surface punctuated by a sprinkling of fresh pepper. I'd been so taken with it I pestered the poor guy for a couple of years, and just this summer he graciously agreed to share the recipe.

Recently Schade has been cultivating a working urban oasis he's dubbed Schadey Acres Farm, growing heritage varieties of beans, squash, peppers, turnips and other vegetables in the more-than-a-dozen raised beds he's built around his home. He makes use of this bounty in his capacity as a personal chef, but also produces a line of pickled and preserved goods under his own Private Reserve Preserves brand.

Purée kernels with onions, then press through a sieve.

When Schade arrived to show me how the soup was made, I was astounded to find out it had only four ingredients: butter, onions, corn and salt. No cream? What made it so velvety? He said it was all in the method, which he'd learned from Kevin Gibson while working at Castagna.

That answered a lot of my questions about this remarkable soup, since I consider Gibson to be a soup guru. (Anyone remember his remarkable Too Many Tomatoes soup from Castagna? I rest my case.)

With credit given where credit was due, Schade went on to say he basically makes the soup according to Gibson's recipe, which is incredibly simple but more technique-driven than one might guess given the number of ingredients.

Hot sauce, salt and it's done.

Starting with onions simmered in butter, Schade combined them with the kernels from 10 ears of corn which he then simmered ever-so-briefly in corn stock—Schade said Gibson told him the secret to corn soup was to "not cook the corn." Purée the mixture in a blender, run it through a sieve and it's done.

With corn nearing the end of its season in the Pacific Northwest, I'll be heading to the nearest farmers' market this weekend and buying up as much fresh corn as I can, so you'd best get there before I do!

Benjamin Schade's Corn Soup

Adapted from Kevin Gibson

Makes approx. 2 qts.

10 ears of corn
3 med. yellow onions, diced finely
1/4 c. butter
2 qts. corn stock
Dash of Crystal hot sauce (or tabasco)

Cut the kernels from the ears of corn. (Schade recommends placing the cob on a cutting board and slicing one side of the kernels from the cob. Rotate the cob so the cut side is against the board and slice the second side. Repeat on the last two sides of the cob. See photo above.) You can also then scrape the cobs with a knife or a handy little tool called a corn slitter to remove any remaining kernels and juice.

Corn slitter.

If you need corn stock, place the scraped cobs in a large pot (a Dutch oven or pasta pot) and barely cover with water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer for 30 minutes. Strain through a fine mesh sieve.

While simmering the stock, chop the onions. Melt butter in a large pot and add onions. Sauté until translucent, stirring constantly to avoid browning. (Schade says it's critical not to brown the onions.) Add corn kernels and stir to combine then add corn stock and bring to a simmer. Simmer 5 minutes. (Remember Gibson's advice: do not cook the corn!)

Remove from heat and immediately strain the corn mixture through a sieve or colander, reserving the stock for another use. Put the corn in a blender, making sure not to overfill the blender; you can do this in batches—remember that hot liquids can explode out of a blender, so Schade advises holding down a thick towel over the lid of the blender while running it. Purée until completely smooth.

Strain through a fine mesh sieve into a large soup pot. If you're straining several batches, you can add strained bits of corn mixture back to the next batch to purée and strain. Discard the strained remains in the compost. Schade stresses that it's better for the soup to be thick since extra liquid can be added to thin out the soup but extra liquid can’t be removed. Start thick and thin to perfect texture.

When all the corn mixture has been strained into the soup pot, add 1 tsp. of hot sauce and salt to taste. (Schade recommends no more than 1 Tbsp. hot sauce for 2 quarts of soup; he said "the hot sauce is not for heat but for the vinegar to brighten the flavor.")

Heat briefly before serving, taste for seasonings and garnish with a pat of butter and grinding of pepper.

Serving in a Pandemic: Local Chef Delivers for Essential Workers

When I asked chef Berkeley Braden how he got involved making and delivering free meals to nurses, truck drivers and his fellow food service workers in the pandemic—most of it on his own dime—he said his motivation was two-fold. "My first motive was selfish, " he said. "I need to be busy so I don't go stir-crazy. I can't just sit around…I have to have stuff to do."

Berkeley Braden with free meals
for truck drivers.

The second reason?

"Restaurants are fucked," he said bluntly. "Lots won't reopen, and if they do they'll have to do so in a radically different format, which screws with your margins." Braden believes that will leave a majority of industry workers—think everyone from chefs to sous chefs to prep people, wait staff, bussers, dishwashers and more—out of a job, most with no savings and short on money for food for themselves and their families.

That's when he decided to step in.

As a personal chef and caterer, Braden said, he'd done really well the last few years, so when his business slowed down due to the pandemic, he started cooking for out-of-work friends and acquaintances in the service industry who didn't have enough money to buy food.

"I enjoy helping people," he said. Plus, "as a chef, I know how to produce lots of good food for very little money."

Minestrone soup for out-of-work service industry people.

The industry lunches tend to be simple—soups, stews and sauces that he cooks in large quantities once a week. Nutritious, filling and packed with flavor, Braden ticks off a list that includes minestrone soup, coconut tomato curry, pasta puttanesca and a vegan posole. Regulars come by his kitchen to pick up packaged meals to take home. He also delivers to neighbors like the wait staff in a coffee shop near his commercial kitchen, which enables him to keep in touch with how they're doing. Another industry friend will take several meals to deliver to people he knows who are having a hard time getting by.

Braden then partnered with a client to organize a fundraiser to take lunches to long-haul truckers. His takeaway was that they're a very underserved group "who continue to get us the things we need."

Braden and coworker Izzy Davids delivering to truckers.

Following the fundraising event, Braden, his coworker Izzy Davids and friend Beth Everett teamed up to take meals out to a couple of area truck stops, looking for people sitting in their trucks. A few were confused as to why someone would do that for them, he said, since they're used to being overlooked or taken for granted.

"One guy even told us to fuck off," Braden said. But a little while later as they were packing up to leave, the trucker came back and apologized, saying that he wasn't used to having people give him something without expecting anything in return.

Kara Morris, a supervisor with Kaiser Home Health, said that Braden jumped at the chance to make lunches when Morris mentioned to Braden's wife, Tracy, that she was looking for resources for meals for her medical staff.

Meals for frontline medical workers.

"He said he wanted to donate meals, and only asked 'when and how many?'" Morris said. "It was great—he's been so organized, thoughtful and meticulous." She said it's wonderful that her staff can swing by between rounds and pick up a meal in the middle of a stressful day.

"Home health care staff are often forgotten" in the stories about frontline medical workers in the pandemic, she said. "They're taking care of COVID positive patients, going into their homes." Morris added that the meals are so hearty that there's often enough left over for workers to take home to their own families.

Braden has been posting photographs on his Instagram feed of the meals he delivers and the masked—but obviously smiling—faces of medical staff holding their meals. He said a few people have contacted him "out of the blue" and offered to send money to "put toward something good," including one man from Alabama and another whose wife brought home leftovers from the meal he'd delivered to Kaiser that day.

While Braden said he's taking it a week at a time, he doesn't see stopping anytime soon. "I'm just happy to help people," he said. "I want to do the right thing because it's the right thing to do. It all manifests itself and gets itself out there in so many ways."

Morris agrees. "[Braden] really cares about food, the process, and the people," she said.

Getting To The Meat: Survival and Supply

If you've heard panicky reports about a shortage of ground beef (or any meat) because of plant closures due to COVID-19, just remember that those reports refer to places where factory-farmed animals are slaughtered in mind-boggling numbers on industrial-scale production lines. The alternative can be found right here in our own back yard, from ranchers dedicated to improving their soil, raising animals on pasture and treating them humanely, not to mention sequestering carbon in the soil, building rural communities and a vibrant, resilient local food system. Cory Carman of Carman Ranch in Wallowa, Oregon, wrote the following in a recent newsletter.

It’s hard to miss the headlines about meatpacking plants and slaughterhouses closing throughout the country. At least 48 plants have reported cases of COVID-19, and 2,200 workers are infected. Beef production alone is down 20 percent since this time last year, and commodity prices continue to increase. At the same time, cattle prices are the lowest they’ve been in a decade.

If you’re interested in what’s happening in large-scale meatpacking plants, USA Today, the New York Times and Civil Eats have great coverage. But rather than speculate about whether we'll see a meat shortage on retail shelves, or if plants will choose to stay open and continue to put workers at risk, I want to highlight what we do know: our own plant.

To build a supply chain of like-minded folks who share our values and vision for the future has always been key to Carman Ranch's mission. That supply chain begins with our producer group and ends with our customers. In between, there are a handful of key players, one of which is Kalapooia Grassfed Processing, a family-owned processing plant in Brownsville, Oregon.

Kalapooia has nearly perfect marks on its annual food safety audits, and on a comprehensive animal welfare audit. Built by Reed Anderson (right, center) to process his own Anderson Ranch lambs, Reed also processes cattle for a few companies, including Carman Ranch. Reed’s son Travis oversees day-to-day operations, and I’ve worked with Pete, Kalapooia's plant manager, for over a decade. The Andersons think of their processing plant as a family business, an ethos that extends to include their staff and customers. Anderson Ranch employs fewer than 50 people, and they took the safety of their workers seriously early on in the COVID outbreak, in part because Pete and Travis work side-by side on the line with their employees. They already required protective clothing, and their small size allowed them to create distancing more easily and effectively than larger plants.  

We’ve harvested our animals at Kalapooia 50 weeks a year for the last three years. At a time when many meat companies have had to shut down, or are nervous about supply, we continue to be confident and proud of our partnership with the Andersons.

As we move through this crisis, we’re learning more about the vulnerabilities in our incumbent systems. Affordability in food is important, but saving a few dimes can come at a cost none of us should have to shoulder, including our own health and safety. Across the country, those costs are now coming to light.  

I won’t pretend our beef is cheap. But when you factor in the positive effects on the climate, community and supply chain that your purchase supports, it becomes an important investment. And, when you subscribe to our philosophy of smaller portion sizes with tons of flavor and nutrition, the dividends on that investment become immeasurable.

The final benefit? We can give our customers the same peace of mind we find in knowing that we'll keep working with partners like Reed Anderson and Kalapooia to provide nourishing food, regardless of how the headlines around large-scale meatpacking plants play out.

Get a guide to buying meat, eggs and dairy from certified pasture-based Oregon farmers and ranchers.

Read my interview with Cory Carman about why she chose to raise her animals on pasture, and how she sees it as a vital tool in reversing climate change and building a more resilient and vibrant local food system.

Read about Revel Meat Company, a processing facility that serves small to mid-sized Oregon farmers and ranchers and provides markets for their products.

Your Food, Your Legislature: Take Action on Mega-Dairies, Climate Change

It's the midpoint of the interim session of the Oregon legislature, and it's time to let your legislator know what you think. Outlined below are several issues and suggested ways to let your legislators know your opinions.

Require large confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) to apply for approval from Oregon Dept. of Agriculture (ODA) and Dept. of Environmental Quality (SB 1513): On the heels of the catastrophic failure of the 30,000-cow Lost Valley Farm and the ongoing issues with the groundwater in the Boardman area, it was hoped that this bill would establish new regulations protecting Oregon's air, water and rural communities from these huge factory farms.

Unfortunately, according to Amy van Saun, a senior attorney for the Center for Food Safety (CFS), this bill is not adequate to address the problems raised by these extractive facilities. "The work group bill (similar to the bill proposed last session) does not go nearly far enough, and chipping away at the edges will not protect our community health and welfare from mega-dairies, including the new mega-dairy proposed at the infamous Lost Valley site," she said. "Further, we are concerned that the climate legislation again both exempts mega-dairies from controlling their methane emissions and creates a perverse incentive for people (especially from states with stronger controls) to set up or expand mega-dairies here, and to then sell dirty manure gas as 'renewable biogas' into the market."

Please consider contacting your Senator about this issue (suggested text below).

Dear Sen. [name]:

I oppose SB 1513 and ask that you vote no on passing this bill out of committee. This weak proposal simply doesn’t go far enough in addressing the significant negative impacts that mega-dairies have on our state. Passing it would simply sweep under the rug the state's systemic failures to protect our environment and communities from this industry.

Mega-dairies harm our air and water, small family farmers, animal welfare, and Oregon's special places. Nowhere has that been clearer than at Lost Valley Farm, but it isn't just Lost Valley. Mega-dairies, including the proposed Easterday Farms that regulators are currently considering, have no place in Oregon. 

SB 1513 is a weak half-measure that won't adequately address the mega-dairy crisis. We are past the point of minor regulatory tweaks. We need a moratorium on new and expanding mega-dairies.

Thank you,

[your name]

Ban use of the pesticide chlorpyrifos (HB 4109): In a vote of 32-24, a bill to totally phase out the insecticide chlorpyrifos in Oregon by 2022 passed the House today over the objections of farm groups that argued the chemical is still necessary, according an article in the Capital Press. It now goes to the state Senate for approval, so it's time to contact your Senator and voice your opinion (suggested text below).

Dear Sen. [name],

I am writing to urge you to support HB 4109 to ban the toxic pesticide chlorpyrifos in Oregon. In some agricultural communities current exposure levels to this developmental neurotoxin by children ages one to two exceed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) own allowable threshold by a staggering 140 times.

Even at low levels of exposure, chlorpyrifos has been shown to alter brain functions and impair the learning ability of children into adulthood and is correlated with a decrease in psychomotor and mental development in three-year-olds. At high levels of childhood exposure, chlorpyrifos has been found to cause attention deficit, hyperactivity, slow cognitive development, a significant reduction in IQ scores and a host of other neurodevelopment problems. Children who live near farm fields experience the highest risks and impacts. In addition to its danger to people, chlorpyrifos has also been shown to harm beneficial insects, fish and birds.

Oregon should not allow industrial interests to endanger the health and well-being of its children or our environment. Please vote for HB 4109 to ban this dangerous chemical.


[your name]

Climate cap and trade (SB 1530): Also known as Legislative Concept 19,  according to an article from Oregon Public Broadcasting, "the bill would force big greenhouse gas emitters to obtain credits for each ton of gas they emit, and create an overall cap for emissions allowed in the state. That cap would lower over time, in theory ensuring Oregon meets stringent conservation targets in 2035 and 2050. Entities required to obtain permits could trade them with one another."

Unfortunately, this bill does not put any controls on emissions from mega-dairies, but would allow them to profit from selling methane capture credits, could perversely incentivize more of these polluting operations to flock to Oregon or expand here. SB 1530’s failure to address these significant emissions thereby threatens to lead to an increase in methane emissions, in direct conflict with the attempts by Oregon legislators to curb climate change.

Add your voice to the 7 out of 10 Oregonians who support climate action in Oregon, and insist that emissions from factory farms are included in the caps (suggested text below).

Dear Sen. [name],

I believe that climate change is the greatest environmental challenge of our time, created and exacerbated by our ongoing actions and inactions. In the face of unforgivable federal inaction, I thank you for your attempts to take action here in Oregon to address our own contributions to climate change and to prepare Oregonians for the future.

However, I am concerned that SB 1530 does not put any controls on emissions from mega-dairies, but would allow them to profit from selling methane capture credits and could perversely incentivize more of these polluting operations to flock to Oregon or expand here. SB 1530’s failure to address these significant emissions threatens to lead to an increase in methane emissions, in direct conflict with the attempts by Oregon legislators to curb climate change.

Oregonians deserve better than dirty mega-dairies. Again, while we applaud your efforts to address climate change, we urge you not to make the problem worse by ignoring the biggest source of methane in our state. Any effective climate legislation simply must address this significant and expanding source of greenhouse gas emissions in Oregon.

Thank you,

[your name]