Virgin Bay Seafood: A Fish Tale

By / Photography By Jim McCune & Mark Boughton | December 28, 2016
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Mike Stoltz with his Coho salmon on a typical day on the famous Copper River Delta in Alaska

Mike was an Alaskan fisherman. He met Nashvillian, Cathy, and they fell in love. They lived in Alaska and one day decided to bring fish from the the icy cold waters of Alaska to landlocked Tenessee. And Nashvillians have never eaten better. The end.

These days it’s easy to “know your farmer,” and where your tomatoes or beets are coming from. But it’s a bit harder to know your fisherman, particularly here in landlocked Tennessee. Now, thanks to Mike and Cathy Stoltz of Virgin Bay Seafood, it’s possible to shake the hand of the folks who fished your salmon out of the icy waters of Alaska. And through them, it’s possible to support Alaska fishing families.

Mike Stoltz, a dentist by trade, admits he has “a commercial fishing problem.” If he had his way, he would spend every free moment trolling the open ocean for king salmon or working his nets in Prince William Sound for sockeye salmon. Stoltz is a 40-year Alaskan and grew up around the fishing industry. He’s proud of his sustainable fishing practices, limiting the by-catch (unintended fish caught in the nets) to the occasional jellyfish, although he does end up contributing a few salmon to hungry sea lions that view his bulging nets as a free buffet.

The problem at the seafood counter here is that it’s hard to get fish from Alaska–lots of salmon (and seafood in general) is farm raised in Chile and other parts of the world (Malaysia and Vietnam), where standards are not what they are in the United States. In addition, lots of seafood advertised as “fresh” might actually be more than a week out of water, especially here in Nashville. On Stoltz’s boat, The Outsider, salmon is caught wild with sustainable methods (gillnetting), then immediately placed in a cold saltwater slurry and blast-frozen at-40° as soon as the boat hits the dock. This practice (commonplace in Alaska), locks in the flavor and protects the meat, a difference that you can taste. One look at Stoltz’s salmon and you can see the difference. Dark orange, smooth and firm with a fresh briny aroma.

Mike’s wife Cathy is the one who brought their novel “Dock to Door” delivery service to Nashville. Mike and Cathy met at a wine tasting in Napa, she a Tennessee girl and he an Alaskan native. They married and she convinced her new husband to split the family’s time between Alaska and her native middle Tennessee.

“I’d never heard of Franklin, TN,” recalls Mike. “I was just a lonely widower living in Alaska, but when I came here, and saw the seafood in the markets, I thought, ‘we can do better. Let’s ship some fish!’ So we rented a minivan and started selling fish on the side of the Highway 96.” Nashvillians were hungry for premium-quality, fresh fish, and Virgin Bay Seafood quickly moved from the side of the road to local farmers’ markets, to the CSA program now.

In addition to the salmon, Virgin Bay Seafood offers scallops, Alaskan red king crab legs, Tanner crabs, and whitefish such as cod and halibut, all sourced from ship captains whom Stoltz knows personally. Customers can also shop from an assortment of other specialty products ranging from smoked salmon strips to roe to salmon burgers to locally-sourced seafood seasoning.

It appears Stoltz’s “fishing problem” is not a problem for Music City at all. Get to know the Stoltz’s and their seafood.

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