Background image of The Skeena River photo by Sam Beebe


Patagonia creates new market for First Nations’ salmon

Patagonia venture seeks to support selective harvest of particularly healthy runs in the upper reaches of the Skeena.

By Tim Gibbins

The Skeena River in northwestern British Columbia is a fabled salmon fishery with many fish-processing plants along its banks. But the company running the newest plant in Thornhill, BC, might surprise you.

It’s Patagonia.

Beginning this week the apparel company launches a bold venture into the food business — Patagonia Provisions Wild Salmon Jerky. The jerky is aimed at outdoorsy folks looking for high protein snacks; it also delivers a strong environmental and community story— in keeping with Patagonia’s industry-leading corporate responsibility.

Once abundant salmon runs on the undammed Skeena River and all along the Pacific coast have greatly diminished. But the Patagonia venture seeks to support selective harvest of particularly healthy runs in the upper reaches of the Skeena.

The company teamed up with SkeenaWild Conservation Trust, to identify in-river harvesting locations for their salmon. And by partnering with the First Nations to source the salmon through traditional fishing methods such as dip nets, fish wheels, and beach seines, Patagonia’s newly created market will help restore an artisanal fishing economy and locally rooted jobs that tap into the watershed’s deep history.

The Lake Babine Nation that lives at the headwaters of the Skeena, has faced long odds since their fishing economy was severely diminished in 1906 when the Canadian government shut down the inland river fishery in favor of the coastal fishery at the mouth of the Skeena River.

Unemployment now hovers near 50% for many First Nation tribes in the region; the 15 jobs created at Thornhill fish processing plant will give a boost, alongside fishing.

Greg Knox, the executive director of Skeena Wild Conservation Trust, told a reporter recently, “Not only are they bringing significant benefits to their communities, but they are showing the world that these fisheries are sustainable and economically viable. Their location and harvesting techniques allow these fisheries to intercept strong runs while allowing smaller, weaker populations to reach their spawning areas. They are some of the most sustainable salmon fisheries in the world.”

So Patagonia’s new fish processing plant may look like other fish processing plants, but the difference, founder Yvon Chouinard says, is that “The product coming out of there is the cleanest, most responsible, best-tasting fish around.”

See more about this venture in this Skeena video.

Tim Gibbins is a writer and Patagonia employee living in Portland, Ore.