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By TRACY SHERLOCK, Vancouver Sun August 28, 2012

Vancouver Island’s Skuna Bay Seafood will be providing its farmed B.C. salmon for the dining rooms at the U.S. Open Tennis Championship in New York this week.

Stewart Hawthorn, managing director and head farmer with Skuna Bay, said the company is thrilled to have its fish being served at the prestigious event. He declined to say what the exclusive deal is worth, but said Skuna Bay would be shipping about 800 fish (about 8,000 pounds) to New York for the championship.

“For us, this isn’t really about the money. We are making a profit on these fish, but what’s really exciting is that this is farm-raised salmon from B.C. being eaten at one of the top sporting events in the world,” Hawthorn said. “They saw what we are doing and they wanted to be part of it. This is a real endorsement.”

Skuna Bay salmon — farmed in the ocean near Nootka Sound on Vancouver Island and just off the Sunshine Coast — has been on the market for less than a year, and the company has sold 153,000 pounds of farmed B.C. salmon in its first eight months of operation, the company said in a news release this week.

The deal with the U.S. Open came about when Ed Brown, a food consultant to the U.S. Tennis Association, became aware of Skuna Bay’s salmon, and made room for the fish on his menus.

“The U.S. Open tennis tournament is synonymous with ‘best in class,’ and we only select the highest-quality food to go with the world’s greatest tennis experience,” Brown said. “Skuna Bay provides consistently high standards for great salmon, and after visiting the farms personally and observing how their salmon are craft-raised with every detail considered before being sent to us in New York, I can see why they are able to achieve such consistently great quality.”

Hawthorn said the company has changed everything from the way the fish is farmed to the way it gets to the customer.

“It’s B.C. salmon, which is the best salmon in the world. It’s hand-processed and hand-packed, and we’ve got 14 different criteria that every fish has to pass before being selected as a Skuna Bay salmon,” Hawthorn said.

The company packs and transports its salmon in a made-in-Canada recyclable cardboard box, which is sealed and signed by the specialist on Quadra Island who personally prepared the fish, Hawthorn said.

Skuna Bay’s salmon is “craft-raised,” which Hawthorn said means that the farmers are craftsmen.

“Our farmers live on the farm, so they really get in tune with the fish. They make decisions on how to look after the fish, not based on numbers, but based on their judgment, their knowledge and their experience,” Hawthorn said.

Farmed salmon is controversial in B.C., both because of ecological and health concerns.

Diseases can spread from farmed salmon to wild salmon, and because farmed salmon are held in such proximity the diseases can amplify, said Karen Wristen, executive director at Living Oceans Society, a non-profit organization that tries to protect Canada’s oceans.

There is also a risk to juvenile wild salmon from sea lice, and to stellar sea lions and seals, which can become caught in the nets and drown, said Wristen’s co-worker Kelly Roebuck, sustainable seafood campaign manager at Living Oceans Society.

The fish farmed by Skuna Bay is Atlantic salmon, which Hawthorn said are the best fish to farm in B.C. from an environmental perspective because they take less resources to raise. They cannot survive in the Pacific Northwest, so will not interbreed if they escape. Diseases are less likely to spread between the two groups, he said.

Last month, two B.C. fish farms — including one owned by Grieg Seafood, which farms for Skuna Bay — culled hundreds of thousands of their Atlantic salmon stock after testing confirmed a small percentage carried an infectious virus.

The virus can be deadly to Atlantic salmon, B.C. Agriculture Ministry fish pathologist Gary Marty told The Vancouver Sun earlier this month. He said the virus poses less risk for wild fish species native to the Pacific, which have a natural resistance.

Skuna Bay salmon is served at more than 400 restaurants in the United States, but Hawthorn declined to say if it is available in Vancouver.

The U.S. Open runs through Sept. 9.

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