28 September, 2022, 14:01

Farmers Market Profile: Randy Houghton of White Cane Sockeye Salmon

Being a fisherman may not make the list of common professions in Tucson, but Randy Houghton has found a way to make it work.

Beginning his career in 1971 salmon fishing in Alaska, Houghton eventually bought his own boat, naming it “White Cane,” which became the name of his business, “White Cane Sockeye Salmon.” It wasn’t until about 15 years ago that he shifted his business slightly.

“I began processing the salmon into fillets and selling it locally in Seattle and Coeur d’Alene, Idaho farmers markets,” said Houghton.

When his children relocated to Tucson to attend the University of Arizona, Houghton found himself visiting more often. Spotting an opportunity to expand White Cane’s reach, he brought his Alaskan salmon and cod to the local markets about four years ago. White Cane Sockeye Salmon has been a presence in Tucson ever since.

After 44 years of fishing, Houghton stepped back from the physical part of the job and started focusing his efforts on ensuring the fish are processed properly.

“The danger of fishing in Alaska is high,” says Houghton. “I didn’t want to push my luck. I worked long enough in the business to know good people who I trust to do the fishing for me.”

He spends the majority of his time focusing on quality control.

Fishing season in Alaska happens from July through August. When the fish are caught, they’re bled and iced immediately, hand filleted, and flash frozen. Once all of the fishing is done, the fish are then sent to the plant and packaged. The products are then taken to three different storage centers.

“From there, the fish are sold both to restaurants and in farmers markets around Washington, Idaho and Tucson. We have it down to know how much fish we will need for the year until the next fishing season comes around.”

Working at farmers markets has allowed Houghton to teach his communities about the benefits of wild fish.

“I like supplying people with a nice product that is a healthy alternative to factory fish,” he says. “People get to know you and appreciate the time you put into what you sell.”

And eating wild fish is the way to go, according to Houghton.

“There is no comparison,” he explains. “Wild caught fish have a pure nutritional value with a high level of omega-3 fatty acids and no antibiotics or hormones.”

Farm fish are fed pellets and live in a pen, whereas wild fish are able to swim freely in the pure Alaskan waters. Simply put, Houghton states, “Alaskan salmon is the best salmon in the world.”

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White Cane Sockeye Salmon offers a variety of products. The salmon is portioned out in larger filets and individual portions. In addition, cod, smoked salmon, and lox are available. The smoked salmon is cured locally at the University of Arizona Agriculture Center using his own brine and by all accounts, is delicious. But Houghton says his most popular product, is by far the lox.

“Our lox is probably the most exceptional. People who like our lox, really like our lox,” he says. “When we run out, customers get upset.”

With Houghton at the helm, White Cane Sockeye Salmon is a company with a big heart and regional reach. He works with his wife and two children, along with good friends who help staff the various farmers markets in Washington, Idaho and Tucson.

“We’re a small family owned business and we all really enjoy doing it. Overall, it has been a fun, positive experience,” says Houghton. “It’s a small operation, but our network is large. Everyone we work with runs a small business, no big corporations.”

Find White Cane Sockeye Salmon regularly on Saturdays at the Oro Valley Farmers Market at Steam Pump Ranch and on Sundays at the Rillito Park Farmers Market. You can also find White Cane products at Dickman’s Meat & Deli and Dominick’s Real Italian.

Jennifer Rothschild is an aspiring freelance food writer by night.

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