Coming to a Plate Near You: Klamath County Sturgeon | Local News
Ancient, armored and hardy, the white sturgeon have likely roamed the rivers and coastal deltas of the Pacific since time immemorial, reaching enormous lengths and living for decades.
But North America’s largest freshwater fish is also good to eat, and a private hatchery in Klamath County has bred these delicious dinosaurs for commercial consumption in recent years.
Now armed with all the proper fish processing licenses and sturgeon large enough to harvest, the Oregon Royal Sturgeon Company began selling and shipping its first cuts of fish this summer, said Darryl Goodson, owner of the ‘business.
The Fort Klamath Hatchery is the only place in Oregon that has FDA and Oregon Department of Agriculture approval to raise and process sturgeon.
The company’s goal is not to waste a single inch of the fish – all of which are raised in a state-of-the-art closed water system, separate from the local watershed, Goodson said.
Hatchery neighbors have purchased pieces of the fish in the past, and the company’s website – OregonRoyalSturgeon Company.com – offers the products and shipping. Some restaurants in southern Oregon have already ordered. Others, like Klamath Falls’ Fable PNW restaurant, are in talks to potentially get some of the local sturgeon meat – which has a texture similar to swordfish, marlin, or even chicken breast. – for their menu.
âIt’s just a good product,â Goodson said. âIf you’ve got something good, you know, you’ll understand where it’s going to go. “
Why the sturgeon? Why Fort Klamath? The Oregon Royal Sturgeon Company is actually on the property of a former salmon hatchery built in the 1980s by Anadromes Inc. near Fort Creek and finally closed in 1991. The hatchery was largely left to the Hatchery. abandonment until Goodson, a retired engineer, bought it along with the rest of his Fort Klamath ranch.
Goodson said he thought about what to do with the old hatchery buildings and vacant raceways and ultimately decided that a fish farm should remain a fish farm. He told the Herald and News in 2015 that he plans to farm salmon that could eventually be reintroduced to the Klamath River.
Standing in front of circular tanks containing thousands of sturgeon on Tuesday, Goodson said after further investigation he decided that the old hatchery system – which diverted the 45-degree water from the source that feeds Fort Creek – maybe not the best idea.
â(Salmon) doesn’t grow well at 45 degrees,â Goodson said. “When this hatchery was here and they were trying to raise salmon, they ended up having to heat the water in the winter just to raise them and the salmon don’t do as well.”
The sturgeon, on the other hand, which has probably existed as a species for hundreds of millions of years and generates what is essentially shielding when only a few inches in length, can survive in large variations in temperature. .
âOnce they’re about five to six inches,â Goodson said. âThey are almost indestructible. They just don’t die.
There is also local evidence for the longevity of sturgeon.
In the late 1950s, the Oregon Department of Fisheries and Wildlife planted approximately 220 non-native white sturgeon in Upper Klamath Lake. There has been little evidence that they have been able to reproduce, but extremely large and probably quite old sturgeons have been found over the years, according to previous newspaper articles.
In 2017, the carcass of a 250-pound female white sturgeon over nine feet long was found at Keno Dam. The year before, Bureau of Reclamation technicians accidentally caught around 300 to 400 pounds of sturgeon in Lake Ewauna before releasing it from the net.
According to a Messenger and News Report at the time, members of the Bill Graham family literally roped a 9-foot-long, 410-pound sturgeon out of the D Canal near Malin in 1994.
How to breed white sturgeon
âThey are like ordinary children. They get most of my attention when they first start out, âsaid Matt Wolder, hatchery manager and self-proclaimedâ Sturgeon Father â.
The sturgeons, called âfryâ in their early days, are currently shipped to the hatchery and are released into a rectangular tank where they initially need constant attention, Wolder explained. During the first few hours, they live off the energy stored in their “bowel bags”, but once it is used up, the youngsters immediately need food. Without it, their stomachs shrivel up and the fry die.
The sturgeon in the company’s tanks comes from a line of fish that was first domesticated at UC-Davis in the 1980s, Goodson said.
Once they have put in a few inches, the fish move into a series of circular tanks – each containing hundreds of fish – where they will spend their entire lives. Cloudy water from the oxygenated pond on site flows into each tank, and automatic feeders provide food gradually.
The shape of the tanks is important and one of the main reasons the process is state-of-the-art, said Goodson, the engineer. The water pushed into the circular tanks flows naturally in a whirling motion which actively cleans the tank of excrement. A drain in the center constantly sucks up the old water.
All the water in the system is precipitation collected from an on-site bordered pond, Goodson said. This water is pumped high into the air into another storage tank, then travels through the pipe system to a room where more oxygen is injected, then to the tanks by gravity. The old water leaves the tanks, is filtered and returns to the pond.
Fish of similar size are kept together so they don’t compete for food, Wolder said. As the sturgeon grows, it moves to another circular reservoir. Eventually, over the course of three to four years, they reach crop size – around 8 to 10 pounds.
For about their last three weeks, the ready-to-harvest sturgeons are placed in clean 44-degree water to allow the fish to rinse off and rid them of the taste of cloudy pond water. The cool water simulates winter for the fish where they don’t eat and move as little as possible to conserve energy, Goodson said.
A separate group of sturgeons are allowed to grow up to live until mating age. Females can take seven to eight years to reach this stage, Wolder said. Ultimately, the plan is for the hatchery to produce its own fry as well as thousands of eggs – otherwise known as caviar.
âIt’s on the road,â Goodson said. âWe’re going to have a big party when we sell our first caviar. “
From tank to plate
When it comes to harvesting, the goal is to make sure the fish on restaurant menus is fresh, Goodson said. The sturgeons appearing on local dishes probably swam a few days before.
When the fish are ready to be harvested, they are stunned and bled in icy slush. From melting snow, they make their way to the hose room where they are suspended from the ceiling.
âFish belly is often one of your tastiest meats,â Goodson said.
The belly flap is removed and will then be smoked – a product soon available on the company’s website, Goodson said. The meatier sections are cut into steaks and skewers. The liver is taken and also offered for sale.
Like sharks, sturgeons have a skeleton made of cartilage.
âOnce you harvest it and put it on ice, that cartilage in the rib cage almost starts to dissolve,â Goodson said. âSo by the time you get to these steaks that we saw in there, it’s gone. This is the most horrible thing.
The caudal fin and the notochord – essentially the sturgeon’s spine – are torn off. The bone marrow inside the accord, which has the consistency of “gummy bears,” is actually used in holiday dishes by the Russian community, Goodson said.
The fins and heads are available for soups, Goodson said. All casings not desirable for consumption are mixed with molasses and sawdust. Enzymes in the fish’s digestive system survive the harvesting process and over time will turn molasses, guts and sawdust into fertilizer.
âWe have all kinds of pasture here that we’re trying to restore that we’re testing it on,â Goodson said. “But we know that fish fertilizer is very popular in the marijuana industry right now.”
As with many fish, a competent chef can do a lot with sturgeon meat. Goodson said they brought in a retired chef from Bend to cook for a âchef’s tableâ event for friends, family and those who have helped the business. The chef transformed the meat into a delicious ceviche.
State agencies have been of great help when it comes to being properly set up and licensed, Goodson said.
âThey really have props, because if we’d never got here, if one of them had said, ‘Hey, you know, you don’t deserve our time,’ Goodson said.
The company basically has only three employees – Goodson, Wolder and the âjack of all tradesâ Richie Lockrem. If a good idea comes up, Goodson says he can design it, Lockrem can build it, and Wolder can handle it.
A passion and committed drive for the health and quality of fish is a must for everyone involved, said Wolder. Someone needs to be on site 24/7 due to the possibility that the aquarium system – which has automatic alarms – is functioning properly and the fish will survive.
In last year’s fire 242, the hatchery actually lost power for four days and employees no longer had vans on site for the generators – which power the process of treating the l company water – keep fish alive.
âYou have to be fully committed to it, you have to enjoy the challenge,â Goodson said. “And that doesn’t mean everyday is fun.”