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What a catch: Skagit’s Own Fish Market

Apr 3rd, 2013 | Category: Community

by Jessamyn Tuttle

Long before starting Skagit’s Own Fish Market, Tana Skaugrud and her husband Eric had a personal connection with fishing. Eric worked on a commercial halibut schooner in the Bering Sea for 25 years, while Tana came from a family with several commercial fishermen. “I have a couple aunts and uncles that fish,” she said. “I’ve always been accustomed to the fishing way of life.”

So it was natural that the couple bought themselves a small boat to take out crabbing when Eric was home. One day they arrived home to find a six-pack of beer on their doorstep with a note from a neighbor who had noticed the crabbing gear and was asking to buy some of their catch. More requests followed, so the Skaugruds cleared out part of their shop building to clean and cook their crab and sold it on weekends.

Tana and Eric Skaugrud. PHOTO BY JESSAMYN TUTTLE

Their home sales were so successful, they began selling at the Mount Vernon Farmer’s Market. Getting fresh spot prawns and crab from fishing friends, Tana cooked all the seafood herself and sold it at the market while Eric was out at sea. They then opened a small fish stand just off of Highway 20, eventually replacing the property’s original berry shack with a larger, permanent building. The current Skagit’s Own Fish Market opened in February of 2009, and both Tana and Eric are now working at the shop full-time. Thanks to their location they get plenty of tourist traffic, but as Tana said, “It’s our local clientele that make what we do fun.”

The shop carries mostly wild, Northwest-harvested seafood, partly from larger suppliers like Taylor Shellfish and Jones Family Farms. Much of their stock comes from local, small-scale fishermen, many of whom know the Skaugruds from their years in the business. Tana deals with between 20 and 30 individual fishermen and families, in some cases buying only a few fish from each.

On any given day the case might contain troll-caught salmon, spot prawns, crab, oysters, clams, halibut, rainbow trout, or tiny silver smelt. They carry canned albacore from Whidbey-based Island Trollers, and smoked salmon from Loki Fish. When it comes to exotic or farmed fish, they keep a close eye on recommendations from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch, helping them choose sustainably harvested seafood. Tana won’t carry farmed salmon at this time. “One day we’re going to demand clean feed, we’re going to demand no GMOs, we’re going to demand no dyes,” she said. Until then, she’s sticking to wild salmon.

As much as possible, Tana wants to showcase foods from Washington State. That includes products like Golden Glen Creamery cheese and butter, Skagit’s Best Salsa, Lopez Island Creamery ice cream, and Burrows Bay Herbs & Spices. She’d also like to add a selection of local produce. “The more local stuff I can get in here the better.”

In addition to stocking local food, Skagit’s Own seeks out any seafood customers want, including lobster and crawfish, or special orders like shark or caviar. Finnan Haddie, smoked haddock, is surprisingly popular, and they have loyal customers for lutefisk, fish balls, salt cod and pickled herring. “I want to have stuff that people remember. They’ll say, ‘I remember when my grandmother made this,’” Tana said. “I like to hear things like that.”

The storefront in Burlington. PHOTO BY JESSAMYN TUTTLE

Skagit’s Own offers a selection of condiments as well as a small lunch menu, which has really been taking off, according to Tana. They began with simple shrimp cocktail and oyster shooters, then started offering fresh halibut tacos, oyster sandwiches and clam chowder. Tana considers their best dish to be the Dungeness crab sandwich, made from crab picked fresh every day; when customers taste the fresh crab meat they want to learn how to cook live crab themselves, so Tana is hoping to someday offer classes on seafood cookery and oyster shucking.

Thinking back to her farmer’s market days, Tana remembers dreaming about what she would do if she had her own store. “I swore I would promote things from this valley,” she said. “I want people to know what’s available from the Pacific coast. I want them to know they can eat here.”

Skagit’s Own Fish market is located at 18042 State Route 20 in Burlington and can be reached at (360) 707-2722. For more information, visit www.skagitfish.com.

Published in the April 2013 issue of Grow Northwest

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