Each year, as May approaches, local fishermen ready their vessels and equipment for one of the year's most important catches--the prized salmon.
And since the commercial salmon fishing season opened Wednesday, you can bet that your favorite seafood market is beginning to stock up on fresh fillets and steaks.
According to Manager Joe Carabajal of Otani Izzy Fish Market in Oxnard, Ventura County residents can look forward to purchasing the finest Pacific salmon species.
"King salmon, also known as the Chinook, are in demand by far the most," Carabajal said. Superior in size, they are the most profitable for fishermen.
"Not only is it larger than other species," he said, "but its flesh is firmer, more flavorful and has less bones."
It appears that local fishermen won't be traveling too far in search of salmon schools.
"The sportfishing boats are catching salmon as close as a quarter-mile out in front of Ventura and the Rincon," Carabajal said. "You can expect the commercial people to be out there too."
No high-tech fish-finding machinery needed here.
"A lot of fishermen use word of mouth when they're fishing for salmon," Carabajal said. "Generally, a bait fisherman will snag some in his seine net and he'll tell a friend and the next thing you know, 40 fishermen are out there."
Abundant schools of bait fish such as sardines and anchovies are the main source of food for ocean-bound salmon.
Which explains, Carabajal said, why "salmon fishermen watch for where the bait fish are being caught."
While fishermen use nets to harvest other fish, salmon schools are protected by law--no nets allowed along the North American coast (excluding parts of Alaska and British Columbia).
The use of nets, Carabajal said, would devastate salmon populations. To maintain their numbers, only hooks and lines are used. Salmon are enticed by live bait trolled through the water.
Where net fishermen can easily haul in a couple of tons of fish, local salmon fishers are more likely to take in only a couple of hundred pounds in an outing, Carabajal said.
The result: "Salmon is expensive," Carabajal said. "Since you can't use nets, you can't get the tonnage. It's called supply and demand."
Although the season opened as planned in Southern California, fishermen farther north will be delayed possibly until August. Near the Oregon border, the season has been canceled.
Because the state Department of Fish and Game anticipates smaller populations this year, it has imposed restrictions in Bay Area waters and farther north. "A lot of spawning habitat was lost because of the drought," department employee Rich Dixon said. "We want to safeguard against too many fish being caught."
That will probably raise the price of salmon for consumers in Northern California. The cost for Ventura County consumers, however, should remain stable. Carabajal expects salmon prices to be fairly reasonable during the season, which runs through September.
"It looks like we have a good population of fish this year," he said. "The sportfishing season opened April 1 and they've been doing real well. Commercial fishermen are optimistic."
When purchasing salmon, Carabajal said to watch for the flesh to be a bright reddish-orange. "A pale fillet can indicate it's probably not as fresh," he said. "Also smell it. If it's too fishy, don't buy it."
Otani Izzy Fish Market is at 608 S. A St., Oxnard. Call 483-6519.
Starting May 9, the Janss Mall in Thousand Oaks will open an outlet you are unlikely to find at other shopping areas. The Janss Mall Merchants Assn., in conjunction with the Ventura County Certified Farmers Market, will offer fresh produce from area farmers from 5 to 8 p.m. Thursdays. The mall is at 215 N. Moorpark Road. Call 495-4662.
SERVING SUGGESTION BARBECUED SALMON
2 ounces butter or margarine
2 cups brown sugar, packed
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 dashes dill weed
Dash cayenne pepper
6 (1-inch-thick) salmon steaks or fillets
Combine butter, brown sugar, lemon juice, dill weed and cayenne in saucepan. Heat over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves. Sauce should be consistency of pancake batter. Add lemon juice if too thick.
Place salmon steaks on well-oiled grill over hot coals. Place green onion stalks on grill. Cook fish 5 to 7 minutes on one side. Turn fish and onions and brush sauce lightly over grilled side of fish. Cook another 5 to 7 minutes or just until salmon can be flaked with fork. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve fish with onions on side. Makes 6 servings.