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Problems with Fish in Boston

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If you like salmon, I would recommend checking out the Coho (aka silver) salmon at Whole Foods. The price is decent considering fishermen in Canada and Alaska only get paid about $.25 a pound if they are lucky. Coho and pink salmon are still making runs through September in Alaska and Canada.

I should warn people that there are fish mongers who are trying to rip people off with King Salmon. Most king salmon runs are finished by late June and grow increasingly rare in July. Late runs in September are possible. I won't mention names but I have seen "king salmon" that looks terrible in some reputable fish joints. Individually quick frozen king salmon is great and available year round but you shouldn't be expected to pay a "Fresh price". King salmon is also caught in California year round on troll line but this is incredibly fresh and expensive. It rarely makes it to the East coast.

I should also point out that there is very little fish actually landed at the pier in Boston. Eastern seaboard fish is primarily landed in New Bedford (#1 landing last year), Gloucester, Point Judith, Cape May and Point Pleasant. Frankly because of all the environmental lawsuits courtesy of Pew Charitable Trust money, there is less and less seafood actually being landed in the Northeast. Perhaps this will increase the availability in the 10 - 20 years but it will result in increased imports, higher prices and less fresh fish available to the consumer.

What you will find at the pier is container loads of fish trucked or air freighted in from points afar - that can mean Canada, Europe, Latin America, Africa, etc.. Most of our farmed salmon comes from Chile in containers, sea bream from Med fish farms, tuna and swordfish from Africa, Latin America and Canada, shrimp from Latin America and Asia, etc...

I should add that this is applies for the Fulton Market and the new Hunt's Point location.

I still believe that buying at the Pier is the freshest option for Bostonians. Pigeon Cove (Whole Foods) buys fish from the wholesalers and importers and simply labels it "Pigeon Cove". It's not like Whole Foods owns fleets of boats that are plying the oceans just for their stores. That said, Whole Foods consistently has some of the best looking seafood in the Boston area. I believe that they have high turn over which means that the fish is most likely to on display for a few days.

I recently visited Wulf's and found the owners to be knowledgeable and skilled. They can tell you where they bought their fish from. They won't buy bad fish from the wholesalers. Unfortunately I don't think they move enough volume so some of the fillets were already breaking down when I visited the store.

More and more people are discovering the virtues of fresh fish. Unfortunately there is a whole lot of bad information and improper handling going on.

Look for coho salmon and enjoy while it lasts. I recommend lightly oiling a fillet with olive oil, give the flesh side a small sprinkling of pepper and placing on a hot grill for 6-7 minutes skin side down, cover on. Don't over cook because coho has up to 5% less fat than farmed salmon or king salmon.

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  1. Hi HC,
    You sound very well-informed, but you also sound as though you have a bone to pick with someone. Just curious, do you work for Whole Foods? I find them amazingly high priced, and I have gotten fish there, that as you so aptly put it, was "breaking down". Those prices don't seem to guarantee quality any more than the Star Market in Allston, which has one of the best fish counters around..

    BTW, I have never had that "breaking down" problem at Wulf's...

    2 Replies
    1. re: galleygirl

      Sorry, getting fresh fish in this area is a lot of work and expensive considering this is a major city and right in the middle of Gloucester and New Bedford and down the road from Maine and Canada.

      I DO NOT work for Whole Foods. I work for the fishing industry. I do find Whole Foods to be overpriced. Any fish that looks and smells great should be bought at low prices - i.e. I would buy 3.99 farm salmon from Star or Stop and Shop over farm salmon from Whole Foods or a fish monger because the fish usually comes from the same place - in many cases the same container shipment.

      I don't live near the infamous Cambridge Star Market but I can attest that the Star in Newton is much different in terms of quality of produce, meat and fish. That said, I have bought some nice sockeye salmon earlier in July at Star market. I also have bought scallops and farm salmon there when the price and quality is right.

      Perhaps I have been spoiled by the high quality, variety and reasonable prices of fish in major cities like NYC and Seattle.

      1. re: homecook

        Totally agree with you about that Star Market in Newton; I can't believe that such an upscale area supports that place...Whenever I stop in, I usually pass on the fish, because there's never anything that looks fresh enough to buy, and grab a salad.(They do have the best Star salad bar!)..Also, Omni Foods on Route 9 has a better fish market than that Star, and they usually have untreated scallops.

        I find Stop&Shop pretty dicey as well, altho the one near me carries whole catfish, in another strange, socio-economic twist (it's on a busline to an ethnic neighborhood that's underserved by chain grocery stores, so I luck out!)

        We probably don't have the variety you would like, but I find if I go for whatever looks freshest that day, I'm usually happy...

        BTW, for sushi grade fish, have you tried Sea To You, on the fish pier? They're open to the public on Friday afternoon and Saturday...

    2. Got to say... the freshest fish in Boston comes from a long monofilament line at the end of my surf rod ;-).

      1. Thanks VERY much for this great informative post.
        I trust your accuracy because your information on the environmental lawsuit information sponsored by Pew is correct and in the news. (There are actually a few other corporations supporting these lawsuits; Packard Foundation comes to mind)
        Unfortunately they're right; despite claims of "junk science" by fishermen being driven out of business, the Atlantic fish are only very slowly replenishing. One article I saw mentioned that swordfish are rarely caught in full maturity these days.
        So I don't trust the fish markets as much as I used to, and my wife and I just don't eat that much store bought fish these days. The last "fresh" fish (as far as we know) that we had was bought at a fish market in Cambridge off the second rotary close to a self service cash only gas station on the Fresh Pond parkway.
        Is that place still OK?
        Scott