“I want to introduce this to the finest chefs in America.”

Arctic char gets star treatment from awed admirer


Thanks to a chance encounter at the International Boston Seafood Show last March, Dale Sims of San Francisco has a big new story to tell.

And he vows that by the time he's done telling it, gourmet chefs and food retailers in the United States will fall so deeply in love with Nunavut Arctic char they'll never satisfy their hunger for more.

"I'm not a fishmonger. I'm a story-teller. My job is to tell the story of your product," Sims told Nunatsiaq News last week. "I want to introduce this to the finest chefs in America."

Sims is vice-president and co-founder of a San Francisco-based fish brokerage firm called CleanFish Inc., which specializes in "artisanal fisheries" that use sustainable methods to produce environmentally friendly seafood.

The good news for Nunavut is that his customers are people for whom high prices are no barrier: high-end gourmet restaurants located in at least 28 U.S. states.

In turn, this creates new money-making possibilities for the Nunavut Development Corp., whose Cambridge Bay fish plant, operated by Kitikmeot Foods Ltd., will supply CleanFish with small quantities of fresh char starting this year.

"We see this as building slowly each year. I think it will take five years to build a large base in the U.S.," Sims said.

In the United States, CleanFish has already made a name for itself by combining marketing razzle-dazzle with a commitment to the environment that it pursues with evangelical zeal.

"CleanFish is a company, an aspiration and a movement. We care about taste, quality, people and the health of our planet," the company's web site brags.

To accomplish this mission, CleanFish searches out small-scale fisheries around the world in which fish, whether wild or farmed, is "harvested responsibly."

That includes species like Pacific steelhead from British Columbia, striped bass from Colorado, Loch Duart salmon from Scotland, and many others.

Arctic char isn't a new species for CleanFish. They already buy char from a fish farm operated in Nova Scotia by the Millbrook First Nation, a Mi'kmaq community near Truro.

But Sims says Nunavut's wild char is special. He noticed that right away when he strolled past the Nunavut Development Corp.'s booth at the International Boston Seafood Show last March.

"They had this beautiful char on display, a 10-pound char. It was gorgeous and it caught my eye," Sims said.

By the time he walked away from the Nunavut booth, Sims was well on his way towards making a deal that will see Nunavut Arctic char distributed to some of the best restaurants in the United States.

For Sims, char is a perfect product for the market he's trying to reach. It's rich in those highly-sought-after omega-3 oils, and it's perceived to be harvested in a sustainable manner and free of contaminants.

"The quality of the fish is excellent. We can create a great market for them. People are concerned more and more about the food they eat, what's in it, where it comes from. My hope is that demand will exceed supply," Sims said.

That means a market where price is no deterrent, the kind of market where people will pay more than $30 a pound retail for highly-prized Copper River salmon from Alaska and other fashionable seafoods.

"I have never wanted to learn the price," Sims said.

This year, Sims says CleanFish will start small. As of the middle of this month, they had acquired about 1,500 pounds of char from Cambridge Bay and hope to get another two to four thousand pounds by the end of the season.

To build demand, CleanFish makes aggressive use of the internet, where their Arctic char press release – entitled "The Nunavuts are coming!" – appears on numerous sites.

They've also posted videos on Youtube that show the environmentally friendly methods used by their suppliers, who they refer to as members of the CleanFish "alliance."

And Sims says his firm is also eyeing Nunavut turbot.

"If we can successfully bring frozen turbot from Baffin Island, we can find a ready-made market for the fish," Sims said.

Nunatsiaq News left a telephone message with the Nunavut Development Corp. last week, but it was not returned before press-time this week.

Go to www.cleanfish.com for more information.

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