Chinook salmon is suddenly off the menu at some of Seattle's most iconic restaurants. A world-renowned Seattle chef says she's taking a stand by no longer serving humans the orcas' favorite food.
Renee Erickson, whose restaurants include The Walrus and the Carpenter and the Whale Wins, among several others, says she has been thinking about the issue for at least a year.
She considered whether she should serve salmon at all.
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Then she saw the mother orca grieving the loss of her calf and another orca just trying to survive, she decided to act.
"As humans, we have to start paying attention," said Erickson, as she sat inside her newest entry into Seattle's red-hot restaurant market.
"Having to catch fish to feed a whale is terrible," she said.
When the talk turned to the endangered Southern resident orcas struggling to survive in the Salish Sea, her mood seemed to match the gloom of her perhaps aptly named bar, inside Amazon's spheres, Deep Dive.
"I'm sure there's plenty of people around the globe that knew that this was coming," she said, "and now we all saw it."
The entire world saw the killer whale known as J50, emaciated and sick with what is believed to be a parasite, and her pod mate, J35, who seemed to struggle with the death of her new calf.
Their dire situation shone a bright light on the dwindling supply of chinook they need to eat to survive.
It all became too much for Erickson.
"Kind of put me in a place where I just felt like it was not necessary for us to serve chinook salmon anymore," Erickson said.
In other words, no matter which of her six restaurants a diner chooses, king salmon will no longer be on the menu.
"There are so many other species of salmon that we can serve and cook and provide for our guests, that it didn't seem necessary to continue to serve it," Erickson said.
At City Fish in the Pike Place Market, the prized chinook salmon was on full display.
Turns out, it is prized by whales, people, too.
"I'd say king's king, for a reason," said fishmonger Jeff Pence, when asked whether it's selling.
He says there is one reason.
"The high oil content," he said. "The omega 3s."
Still, some of his customers said they applaud Erickson's decision to drop king salmon from her restaurants.
"I agree with her," said Jennifer Jelich of Bonney Lake. "I could give up king salmon."
Monty York of Port Orchard was asked if she would go to a restaurant that wouldn't serve king salmon.
“Yes, definitely," she said. "I'd support a restaurant that didn't serve it. Oh, yes, in a heartbeat."
Moreover, Erickson says, she doesn't believe it will affect her bottom line.
"No I don't think so.," she said. "I mean if people don't come eat in our restaurants because we're doing something that is probably beneficial to something that's so important to the northwest, then I'm OK with that. They don't have to come. We have other salmon. They'll get lots of delicious salmon. Just not chinook."
Erickson ultimately didn't decide to drop salmon altogether, Just the king.
Her new place, Deep Dive, doesn't open until next week.
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