My wife and I recently dined at a local restaurant in which the server sang the praises of their newest menu item which was all the rage: fresh sterling salmon. As a lifelong Northwest native, hearing the term sterling salmon for the first time piqued my attention. I am very fond of Chinook, Coho, Sockeye, Chum, Pink even Steelhead salmon. But never have I before seen the species, sterling salmon. So, of course I had a few questions.
Our server's attempt to sell the fish was admirable. I told her that I had never heard of sterling salmon and I asked, was it Atlantic salmon? She said she didn't know. I asked her if it was farm-raised and that triggered a redirection into a colorful description of how the fish was expertly prepared. Our server seemed to be trying hard not to sound like she was regurgitating the canned lines she had learned during a recent paid field day class promoting this new product.
Our server, bless her heart, later returned with our food and she handed me a glossy, full-color four page photo booklet describing the wonders of sterling salmon. She said the booklet could answer my questions. It did not.
Since when does salmon need a marketing booklet to sell in the Northwest?
Nonetheless, out of curiosity, my wife and I both ordered the dish with the fish which is described with such over the top terms as the "very best salmon in the world." While dining on the mysterious salmon, I perused the sterling salmon marketing booklet and could not find any references to the fish being "Atlantic" or "farmed" salmon.
After returning home, a search on the web confirmed my suspicions -- sterling salmon is merely a rebranding of Atlantic farm-raised salmon -- a fish with a less than sterling reputation. The sterling brand is a marketing name used by the Canadian firm, Marine Harvest, for their Atlantic salmon penned in the waters off Vancouver Island.
The sterling brand is a product line of Marine Harvest ASA, one of the largest seafood companies in the world, and the world’s largest producer of Atlantic salmon.
There have been many studies comparing the benefits of eating wild salmon versus farmed salmon. Wild salmon wins hands down every time. In fact, Atlantic farmed salmon is viewed as somewhat of a pariah and should be avoided according the SeafoodWatch.org, the well-known program by the Monterey Bay Aquarium to help consumers make healthy choices. Hmmm... no wonder it is being rebranded as sterling salmon.
What is most concerning about this situation is that local restaurants are misinforming consumers by peddling this marketing mumbo jumbo. Here to date, restaurants have been quite transparent in describing the salmon they sell. Menu descriptions including "King salmon" (Chinook), "Silver salmon" (Coho) or "farmed salmon" (Atlantic) are commonplace in the Northwest. Consumers select the species and the characteristics of each type of fish and each has a different price point. The sterling salmon branding is an attempt to confuse the consumer, plain and simple. The term "sterling salmon" means nothing. It is no more descriptive of a fish species than are the terms "AirJordan" or "Twinkies."
Restaurants serving sterling salmon and not labeling it as Atlantic farmed are doing the consumer a disservice. Changing the name to confuse the consumer and then selling it as if it were a premium product is shameful.
There are real, qualitative differences between wild and Atlantic farmed salmon. This fact is usually reflected in a lower cost compared to wild salmon.
Local restaurants and chefs should be upfront and proud of the products they serve. Call Atlantic farmed salmon what it is. Don't play games. Buyer beware.
Our concern is less with the brand known as sterling salmon and more with the unabashed attempt to dupe the public into thinking the product is something other than what it is: Atlantic farmed.
Consumers need know what they are eating. Consumers need the truth about food. Restaurants should not partake in duping the consumer with such sophisticated ploys.
We do not doubt that Marine Harvest's sterling salmon brand is their premium product and that it compares favorably to their other offerings. However, when sterling salmon is compared to wild salmon, it cannot be considered anything but inferior.
In the end, consumers should have all of the facts.
Get educated. Learn more about wild vs. Atlantic farmed salmon:
The dish my wife and I enjoyed was served at a well-known restaurant here in Kirkland. We enjoyed our meal. The salmon was cooked to perfection. Kudos to the chef.
Next time, however, please don't try to sell us Atlantic farmed salmon unless you name it as such. We depend upon restaurants to be upfront and clear about the products they sell.
My wife and I noted the impressive marketing behind the sterling salmon campaign and we wondered to ourselves, how did salmon ever became something that was "brandable?" Then the answer became clear when the annual Copper River Salmon season frenzy returned.
Note: Copper River salmon is wild and a premium product without doubt. Sterling salmon is an inferior product rebranded to mask that fact. One is the real deal, albeit with a premium price, the other is little more than smoke and mirrors.