The Juan de Fuca Salmon Restoration Society is only days away from its third annual competition for the best smoked salmon in Canada.
It’s a title that, at first blush, may seem a wee bit pretentious but, according to the society’s Wendal Milne, when one considers the long history of salmon fishing and smoking in this region, the claim seems justifiable.
After all, smoked salmon, he said, is to Sooke what maple syrup is to certain regions of Eastern Canada.
The most significant difference, he continued with a chuckle, is that smoked salmon is a far tastier gastronomic delight with a long history in the region.
“The T’Sou-ke and Pacheedaht peoples have been fishing for salmon forever and in the early 1900s there was a whole series of fish traps that were important to the region’s economy,” Milne said.
“Those traps gave way to a fleet of fishing boats in the mid-1900s and over time the salmon stocks declined.”
But the importance of salmon to the region has never disappeared, said Milne, and his organization, along with the Sooke Salmon Enhancement Society and others are now engaged in the process of both working to rehabilitate salmon stocks and to educate people about the threats faced by the salmon populations and what needs to be done to rehabilitate the fish stocks.
“The smoked salmon competition is great fun, but it also gives us a chance to have people come down to our site at the interpretive centre and see the work that we and others are doing to preserve this important natural resource.”
The format of the competition is rather unique in that judging for the best salmon is done by a group of 100 judges who have paid a $5 fee for the privilege of judging the smoked salmon entries.
“It’s really a bit of a fundraiser. The judges pay their $5 and get to sample a plate of about a dozen different smoked salmon pieces. They then vote for the best smoked salmon in a sort of people’s choice decision,” said Milne.
The salmon is all locally produced by local fishermen and, while candied and whisky-smoked salmon has become increasingly popular, most of the contestants prefer to stick with the traditional smoking methods.
“This is our third year running the event and a fellow by the name of Ryan Kunce, who fishes in Sooke all the time, has won the competition twice. He follows the traditional smoking method and his fish is just amazing.”
Beyond bragging rights, winning the competition earns the victorious salmon artist a small cash prize and the William and Sarah Vowles Perpetual Challenge Trophy. That trophy is named for two individuals who were integral to the early salmon fishery in Sooke and whose great grandsons remain active in the industry.
The event will be held on Sept. 30 between noon and 3 p.m. at the picnic site at the Charters River Salmon Interpretive Centre and will feature live entertainment, courtesy of the Victoria Bluegrass Society.
The interpretive museum will be open for visitors and, for those who are not tasting the smoked salmon, salmon burgers (as well as beef burgers, hot dogs and beverages) will be available.
“We want people to come down and buy a ticket to be a judge, or simply get a beer and a salmon burger and listen to the music. While they’re there they can learn about the work we’re doing and about salmon in general. It’s an important part of who we are in Sooke.”
More information on the event is available at salmonforsooke.ca.