Eric Akis, Victoria Times Colonist, April 4, 2007

For this month’s version of our Best of the Island series, I didn’t recruit a tasting panel, opting instead to report solo on some of the Island’s best seafood shops.

 I did this for two reasons. Firstly, my research required a few days worth of travel and an overnight stay — too much time to ask potential panelists to donate, particularly considering the unpredictable weather conditions at the time. And secondly, I’ve written a best-selling cookbook on seafood that includes purchasing tips, so I felt confident I could judge which retailers were doing an exemplary job.

With this feature being called Best of the Island, I visited four shops in four different communities. All have excellent reputations for serving their respective towns. I judged them on cleanliness, quality of product, customer service and business approach.

The first store I visited was Trilogy Fish Company in Tofino.

When I walked into this smart and polished-looking store, I knew exactly where I would shop for seafood if I lived in Tofino. The crushed ice-filled showcase and live tanks were rich with glistening fresh local flounder, rockfish, albacore tuna, plump
pacific scallops, local clams and oysters, and very feisty, live Dungeness crab.

This inspiring operation, dedicated to adding value to local fisheries and seeing jobs in that business stay in the region, is cooperatively owned by a group of 15 investors, including local residents, outside investors, First Nations and Ecotrust Canada, a non-profit community development organization.

Beyond fresh seafood and a wide range of condiments, sauces and other items to flavour your desired catch, Trilogy also specializes in custom processing and smoking. General manager John Gilmour let me sample their hot smoked tuna, sablefish, candied salmon and cold smoked chinook salmon. All were to die for, particularly the chinook salmon — it was smooth as butter.

"A big part of our thing is following the Monterey [Bay Aquarium] seafood guide," says Gilmour. The mission of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, located in Monterey, Calif., is to inspire conservation of the oceans. Gilmour says one way they are doing that is by providing a seafood watch program that has a detailed list of fisheries that are healthy and sustainable and those in poor condition, which they hope wholesalers, retailers, restaurants and consumers will avoid. To learn more about the seafood watch program, go to mbayaq.org/cr/seafoodwatch.asp.

The next morning, I headed off to my next destination: Portuguese Joe’s Fish Market in Courtenay. This Comox Valley landmark has been in business for more than 40 years and is operated by the mother and son team of Nilda and Eddy Veloso. The friendly shop is named after Nilda’s late husband Joe, a former Portuguese fishermen who immigrated to Canada and continued in the business he knew best.

"I still like the business, although you don’t make much money," says Nilda, reflecting
on how large grocery stores offer cheap prices on some fish to draw customers in so they’ll buy other items.

During my visit, though, it was obvious that the Velosos still have a very loyal following. There was a steady stream of happy folks coming into the store during my visit to buy fresh shrimp, sole, cod, mussels, crab, salt cod, smoked salmon and smoked tuna. If they needed preparation ideas, Nilda had dozens of recipes available to assist them.

"We are known all over the country [particularly for smoked fish] thanks to our large military clientele," says Eddy Veloso, noting that people posted to CFB Comox seem never to forget the fine seafood they’ve purchased at Portuguese Joe’s. I could
understand why.

Next I headed south to Cowichan Bay and strolled into a waterfront store aptly named Cowichan Bay Seafoods. As at my first two stops, the fish — halibut, rockfish, sole and more — in the ice-filled showcase gloriously shimmered and there was not a hint of a fishy smell, always a good sign when you’re in search of the freshest
seafood.

Owner Tracey Thompson says she does not sell East Coast mussels. "They are just not as sweet, large and plump as our West Coast ones." Thompson also stocks small
and delicious miyagi oysters, which are perfect for eating raw, and a number of frozen, valued-added products, two of which I purchased because I knew they would make fabulous suppers.

One was cooked and peeled local sidestripe prawns, which I thawed and simmered in fennel and saffron sauce and tossed with pasta. Absolutely wonderful! The other
was a packet of frozen Dungeness crab meat, where the leg and body
meat were conveniently layered separately. I thawed the crab a few days later and turned it into the best crab cakes this side of Cape Cod.

A few days later, I made my last stop — the Satellite Fish Company in Sidney. This is another family-run business, opened by Don Norburys, that has been in operation for more than 40 years. It is one of the most picturesque seafood shops in Canada, situated in a postcard-like blue and white building on the wharf at the end of Sidney’s Beacon Avenue. Working in the store during my visit was Don’s son,
Robin. He told me how things work at the Satellite Fish Company.

"We pick up the fish in the morning, I cut it, you buy it, and then we do it all over again the next day," said Norbury, noting that the store aims to sell out every day. "Best to come early," he says.

I could see why: the local cod, halibut, shad and sole for sale looked just plucked from the sea. Beyond fillets and steaks, Norbury also has whole fish for sale, such as rock cod, which I imagined would taste divine steamed and topped with a ginger-laced black bean sauce. This seaside store also sells fine Dungeness crab, smoked salmon and snapper, and will order in items for you if they don’t have them on hand.

Once home, it was time to decide which of these seafood shops was better than the others. In the end I gave a few extra marks to Trilogy Seafood Company; not only do they sell fine seafood, but they are committed to doing so in a community-based, sustainable way so that the future generations can enjoy what we have today and, one hopes, even more.

1. Trilogy Fish Company, 630 Campbell St., Tofino; tel – 725- 2233

2. Portuguese Joe’s Fish Market, 3025 Comox Rd., Courtenay, BC; tel – 339-2119

2. Cowichan Bay Seafoods, 1751 Cowichan Bay Rd., Cowichan Bay; tel – 748-0020

2. Satellite Fish Company, 2550 Beacon Ave., Sidney BC; tel – 656-2642

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