Tribes work together to provide salmon for families

Chum salmon is canned at the Swinomish Fish Co.
Salmon always has played an important part in tribal diets in western Washington. These days, with a disproportionate number of tribal members suffering from diabetes, eating salmon is more important than ever.

Unfortunately, with salmon runs in decline and fewer tribal members making their living as fishermen, the resource is harder to come by.

The Swinomish Fish Co. has long provided canned salmon to Swinomish tribal elders, and in recent years, has started providing it to the Suquamish and Tulalip tribes as well.

“We have canned fish for Swinomish elders as long as I’ve been here,” said Tom Durkan, general manager of the Swinomish Fish Co. “The elders like them so much.”

Sometimes the fish are surplus or otherwise less desirable to buyers because their spawning colors are showing and they aren’t chrome bright. Suquamish fisherman Ray Forsman, for example, traded his excess harvest from the 2010 record Fraser River sockeye run for canned fish from the Swinomish Fish Co.

“The cans were so popular and it’s a good way to get quality food to the elders and youth,” said Rob Purser, the Suquamish Tribe’s fisheries director. “The community deeply values the salmon in all forms, and bringing salmon into the community helps support our traditional diets.”

The Tulalip Tribes also trade returning hatchery chum for canned sockeye and chum.

“The Tulalip Tribes Natural Resources Department is working with our new Hibulb Cultural Center to eventually provide a variety of traditional foods year-round,” said Ray Fryberg, director of natural resources for Tulalip. “Historically, Coast Salish tribes preserved foods for meals and ceremonial use during the winter months. Our partnership with the Swinomish Fish Company renews this way of life and provides year-round salmon at a fraction of the cost of local stores.’

This tribal canned salmon network provides a nutritional opportunity for families that can’t afford fresh salmon, points out Michelle Skidmore, a registered dietician for the Swinomish Tribe.

“To purchase fish is very expensive if they don’t have a family member to donate fish to them,” she said. “When the tribe provides fish to elders, or anyone, it’s highly beneficial nutritionally and the people in the community do enjoy it because it’s a traditional food.”

Because canned salmon contains bones, it not only provides Omega-3 fatty acids, which are good for those who suffer from diabetes and heart disease, but also calcium and vitamin D.

Traditionally, when tribal members prepared salmon, they ate some of the bones or used them when making soup, Skidmore said.

“I recommend that they crush the bones and mix them in with the canned salmon,” she added.

For more information, contact: Tiffany Royal, Strait of Juan de Fuca/Hood Canal Information Officer, 360-297-6546 or [email protected]; Kari Neumeyer, North Sound Information Officer, 360-424-8226 or [email protected].