Iron Chef challenge; Fish in Juneau & more...
January 24, 2011
The annual Child Nutrition Industry Conference held by the School Nutrition Association occurred in Seattle last week – and Alaska’s pollock producers made sure fish was in the spotlight.
“We had the opportunity to create a seafood Iron Chef competition so school food service directors could work with pollock and create new menu ideas in a competitive environment,” said Pat Shanahan, project director for the Genuine Alaska Pollock Producers trade group, a leader in getting good seafood on school menus.
For the Iron Chef challenge, 24 school district directors were divided into three teams, and each had a different pollock product to work with: Baja fish sticks from Trident Seafoods, a potato crunch strip from American Seafoods, and an unbreaded pollock wedge from Fishery Products International.
Their challenge was to create a balanced meal that meets strict federal school nutritional guidelines.
“So they were judged not only on taste, but also whether it met the nutritional guidelines, whether it could be replicated in a school food service kitchen and also on how innovative the idea was,” Shanahan said.
The pollock meals were judged by a panel of adults and high school students from Ingraham High School. The winner?
“All scored very highly but the winning recipe was Fiesta Flatbread Fish – which was a sandwich that used the potato crusted Alaska pollock,” Shanahan said.
New school dietary guidelines will be out at the end of January, Shanahan said, and that means good news for Alaska seafood.
“The federal guidelines for the first time recommend that Americans eat two seafood meals a week,” she explained. “Right now schools must adhere to meal guidelines based on 2005 dietary guidelines. When the new guidelines come out the USDA will create new meal pattern guidelines for schools.”
The guidelines will recommend eating two, four ounce servings of seafood per week that provide an average of 250 mg/day of omega 3 fatty acids from marine sources. Alaska pollock provides 536mg per serving.
GAPP’s main goal, Shanahan said, is to make sure kids have a good experience with seafood at school.
“Many students are not exposed to fish at home, so it is very important that the fish they eat at school is top quality and tasty,” she said, “Otherwise they will not be fish eaters as adults.”
Fish in Juneau
Few fish bills are in the legislative hopper as the Alaska legislative session gets underway in Juneau. That might be fortunate, as the legislature has come together this year in a way that might not favor fish issues.
Notably, the prime decision makers that move bills forward are inlanders from Fairbanks. The House Fish Committee is chaired by freshman Representative Steve Thompson of Fairbanks. Another legislative newcomer from the Fairbanks region, Rep. Erik Feige, will share the gavel of the House Resources Committee with Rep. Paul Seaton of Homer. On the Senate side, the Resources Committee is co-chaired by Senator Tom Wagoner of Kenai and Joe Paskvan, also from Fairbanks.
“Apparently, Fairbanks is going to have some big influence on fisheries issues potentially, especially in the House,” said Bob Tkacz who watchdogs legislative fish issues and publishes Laws for the Sea, now in its 16th year.
Whatever happened to the independent study on the Pebble Mine that was funded by lawmakers last year? Tkacz said it’s being held up in the Legislative Council.
“There is very obviously a segment of the legislature that doesn’t want that study to go forward,” he said. “The goal is to make sure that no information comes from any source except the Pebble Partnership. They don’t want a reliable, independent and honest assessment of a big mine study. So at this point it’s still on hold.”
“She appears to be scoring points. Unless something comes up that is not on the radar screen, what I’m hearing is that she is not going to have any problem getting through.”
Tkacz said Laws for the Sea will be distributed several times each week during the legislative session. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org .
Salmon looks strong
Final forecasts for the 2011 salmon season won’t be out for a few weeks, but early indicators point to another good fishery. Total Alaska catches are likely to be close to last year’s 168 million salmon, perhaps down slightly. And industry watchers predict the continuing strong demand will mean good prices for wild salmon.
Many market factors bode well for Alaska – forecasts for wild salmon returns in Pacific Coast fisheries are a mixed bag, with low to modest expectations for all harvests.
Salmon scientists are still scratching their heads over the big 2010 sockeye run at British Columbia’s Fraser River, where red returns approached 30 million, compared to just one million in 2009. Most believe the strong showing does not indicate a turnaround for Fraser sockeyes, said market expert Ken Talley. Bets are on a modest return of Fraser River reds this summer.
Ongoing woes with Alaska’s biggest competitor – farmed salmon from Chile - will keep wild salmon more competitive. Chile’s multi-billion dollar farmed salmon industry collapsed two years ago due to a deadly fish virus. Through last October Chile had sent about 50 million pounds of Atlantic salmon in all forms to the U.S., Ken Talley said, a drop of nearly 57% from 2009.
The decline has forced higher first wholesale prices for Chilean fish-- $4.72/lb, an increase of more than 25%. The narrower price differentials between wild and farmed salmon has made wild fish much more competitive with buyers -- at a time when wild is gaining more appeal overall. Chile’s woes won’t be over anytime soon – industry officials told Intrafish that the farmed salmon industry has ‘no chance’ of returning to normal by 2013, as has been reported. Chile’s industry also faces strict new rules to prevent a repeat of the fish virus which will increase production costs by 30%.
Seafood still tops
Seafood remains Alaska’s most valuable export. The value of Alaska exports through last October increased by 30.4 percent to more than $3.8 billion compared to the same period in 2009.
Seafood export value of $1.7 billion was a 12 percent increase thanks in part to the best salmon season in 18 years.
In comparison, Alaska’s export value for minerals was $1.3 billion, a 63.6 percent increase due primarily to much higher world prices for zinc. Alaska is home to the world’s largest zinc mine, Red Dog in Northwest Alaska.
The value of Alaskan goods first warehoused in other states and then exported is not included in the totals.
This year marks the 20th year for this weekly column that focuses on Alaska’s seafood industry. It began in 1991 in the Anchorage Daily News, and now appears in over 20 newspapers and web sites. A daily spin off – Fish Radio – airs weekdays on 30 radio stations in Alaska. My goal is to make all people aware of the economic, social and cultural importance of Alaska’s fishing industry to our state, the nation and the world.