Ocean Odyssey: Part One – Where Your Food Comes From

Pat and Darrell’s adventure started in sunny Mexico in 2000 where they met a family who owns a fishing vessel and works out on the British Columbia coast line. Throughout their vacation not only did they get to enjoy some beautiful weather they learned a great deal about our fishing industry in Canada. When they returned home they started ordering fish from their friends in British Columbia. They started sharing what they learned with their friends and family and as the word spread they realized they were placing large orders for fish. In 2001 they decided to embrace their new passion and opened the doors to their store front called Ocean Odyssey. The name is a tribute to their friends fishing vessel.


Pat and Darrell have a mission to provide premium quality fish that is respectfully caught to sustain the fishing industry and preserve the aquatic environment. They both spend a great deal of time educating the public about different fishing methods as well as the variety of fish and seafood they sell and background of the environment the fish/seafood originate from. I myself learned a great deal when I sat down with Pat last month and want to share some of the key points I think we all need to be aware of when buying fish and seafood.

Pat explained to me the quality of the fish we buy in the grocery store depends on how the fish are handled immediately when they’re taken out of the water. This statement hit me hard because to be honest I hadn’t thought of it from this perspective and as I listened to Pat I realized how uninformed I am about fish and the journey fish begin once they leave their home.

There are several methods of how fish are taken out of the water and I will walk you through each one and the impact each has on the fish and the environment. Please keep in mind I am giving only sharing a very brief overview and for more information I encourage you to do your own research or start by taking a trip to the Ocean Odyssey as I did as I am sure Pat and Darrell would love to share their knowledge with you.

The gold standard for catching fish is by a method call trolling. Trolling is when 6 industrial size fishing lines are let out at a time with the ability to catch a maximum of 6 fish per line. Once the lines are full the fish are brought onto the boat, cleaned immediately and blast frozen. The reason this is the best method for fishing is for several reasons. First, the stomach in fish contains a great deal of acid. If the fish are not cleaned immediately the stomach acid starts to break down the lining of the stomach and gets into the meat where it breaks down the muscle and the meat turns starts softening and can turn to mush (called belly burn). Pat explained when we are buying a filet of fish and you notice large splits on the filet, it may be a result of not being cleaned as soon as it should.

Gillnetting is the second best method for catching fish. Nets of various length, depth and mesh size are attached to small boats and strung close to shore and tended continuously. Gillnetters fish primarily for sockeye salmon and chum near coastal rivers and inlets. Fish caught with by this method diet under water. The fish are taken out quickly but not usually cleaned immediately.
Seining is the third way fish are caught.

Seining is how most of the fish you and I see at our local grocery store is caught. These boats use large nets to encircle the fish. The net is then brought up so that the fish can not escape. The challenge is that the nets catch everything and there is tremendous weight on top so the fish at the bottom often get squashed and turn to mush.

Dragging is where a weight is attached to a net and dragged on the bottom of the ocean floor. It catches everything in its path and whatever is caught is dragged along with the net. The same challenges arise as seining where a lot of marine life is caught and discarded and the fish on the bottom are squashed.

Now what about farming?

Fish farming is not a new industry.  When I was doing some research for this blog I discovered it dates back to 2500BC in Asia!  Wow I thought and we still don’t have it figured out!! Farming fish is not such a bad idea but as with anything there is the gold standard and everything to the opposite extreme.  If the tanks are not cleaned on a regular basis the fish end up living in the “dead zone” which increases the risk of lice which can deplete nutrients from the fish.  Too many lice the fish will die.

If we take salmon as an example to discuss the lifespan, it takes a pink salmon has the shortest lifecycle at approximately two years, a sockeye 3-4 years and a spring salmon 7 years.  Salmon eat during daylight hours.  In order to help the fish grow faster some fisheries turn lights on so the fish will eat all day long thus increasing size more rapidly.  The more rapid they grow the more fish they can produce.

So farming can be done well and countries like Iceland and New Zealand have established some of the best practices for building sustainable fishing industries that include farming.

My conversation with Pat was very enlightening.  As a nutritionist, I have learned a great deal about where our food comes from but I realized how little I knew about the fishing industry.  I make recommendations regarding food choices to my clients every day.  My recommendations are all evidence based on leading edge-but I realized how important it is for me to understand the implications health recommendations have on our food supply. I’ll write more about this tomorrow.