SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Fish Factor

Busiest day for seafood sales, Laws' tells all ,
Clones coming, & Grant give aways

By Laine Welch


February 03, 2008

This week will mark the start of Lent on Ash Wednesday, a time of fasting and soul searching for hundreds of millions of Christians around the world.

Ash Wednesday is so called from the ritual of placing ashes from burned palm branches on the forehead as a sign of repentance. This custom has been universal since the year 1091. The ashes symbolize the religious statement "remember that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return."

The word Lent derives from the Old English lencten, meaning spring. Many believers will give up favorite foods during Lent, especially meat, or they'll devote time to volunteering or charity work. The 40-day Lenten season, which this year runs from February 6 to March 23, dates back to the 4th century. Lent allows time for the faithful to prepare spiritually for Easter Sunday when, according to Christian belief, Christ returned from the dead.

In many countries, the day before Lent - called mardi gras or shrove Tuesday - has become a last fling before the start of the long fasting season. For centuries, it was customary to not eat meat during Lent, which is why some people call the festival carnival, Latin for 'farewell to meat.'

And what the peak holiday sales season from Thanksgiving to Christmas means to retailers, Lent means to the seafood industry. Food Services of America, for example, reports that Ash Wednesday is the busiest day of the year for frozen seafood sales, and the six weeks following is the top seafood selling season for the entire year.

While nearly all seafood enjoys a surge of interest during Lent, the most traditional items served are the so called "whitefish" species, such as cod, pollock, halibut and flounders.

But no matter what the seafood favorite, the six week Lenten season is good news for Alaska, which provides more than half of all the nation's wild caught seafood to U.S. restaurants and grocery markets.

'Laws' tells all

"Laws for the Sea" is a weekly publication that is a 'must have' for anyone watch-dogging fisheries issues that come before the Alaska legislature.

Now in its 14th year, 'Laws' began out of a "sense of frustration" and "a need for more timely news than the monthly trade magazines could provide," said Juneau-based writer and publisher Bob Tkacz.

"Trying to cover timely news in the course of a four month legislative session was impossible, and so I was kind of relegated to just writing stories about things that were over and done with. I realized that there are a lot of people in the seafood industry and elsewhere who are interested in fisheries legislation going through the capital building. So I went to a weekly schedule for 'Laws for the Sea' and it has proven to be productive and useful," Tkacz said.

Bob Tkacz was for years the lead correspondent for the former Alaska Fishermen's Journal and a longtime writer for the Petersburg Pilot. Another motivation for launching 'Laws for the Sea' he said was to help reporters in remote regions provide good long distance legislative coverage for their communities.

"I always felt my core clientele is the Alaska fisherman out in the villages and the communities who can't afford to hire a lobbyist, or make more than one or two trips to the capital to testify on a bill that's really important to them," he said.

'Laws for the Sea' coverage also goes well beyond fish bills.

"This year, for example, there is a bill to increase the minimum wage," Tkacz said. "That's not a fish issue per se, but seafood processors and thousands of workers around the state could be affected by that bill. It's like the ocean itself ­ the political sea of Alaska is all intertwined. Seafood businesses and stakeholders don't just deal with fish. So all the bills that regulate business also relate to the seafood industry. Alaska seafood people want to know what the legislature does in Juneau and 'Laws for the Sea' tells them what's going on."

Get a sample of 'Laws for the Sea' by contacting Bob Tkacz at

Clones coming

The U.S. is about to become the first country in the world to approve food from cloned animals. The Food & Drug Administration issued a summary report last week claiming there is no evidence that meat and milk from cloned animals are any different from the real thing.

Cloning lets farmers or ranchers make copies of animals that fatten more rapidly, or cows that are better milk producers. The technology also applies to fish.

For over 10 years a company called Aqua Bounty has been bio-engineering Atlantic salmon that grow up to 600 times faster than normal, and are ready for market in 18 months instead of the usual three years. Aqua Bounty, which operates labs and hatcheries in the U.S. and Canada, hopes to be the first fish company to get its "frankenfish" on seafood counters.

"We have only changed one gene so the salmon use their own growth hormone more efficiently," said company director Elliot Entis.. The fish also have increased tolerance to cold, are more disease resistant, and are neutered to prevent inbreeding with wild stocks, he added.

Many consumer groups, such as the Center for Food Safety, believe the verdict is still out on the safety and ethics of cloning. And national surveys show 64 percent of Americans are turned off by foods from cloned animals. Still, the FDA says since food from cloned animals poses no significant health risks, they need not be labeled.

The FDA will decide by next year whether to allow the commercialization of cloned foods.

Grant give aways

American Seafoods Company is accepting applications for its latest round of community grants. This month an advisory group will award a total of $30,000 to community projects that focus on hunger, housing, safety, education, research, natural resources and cultural activities. Deadline to apply is Feb. 11; recipients will be chosen on Feb. 19. Contact Kim Lynch at or by calling 206-256-2659.


Kodiak-based Laine Welch has been reporting news of Alaska's seafood industry for print and radio for 20 years. Fish Factor appears in 15 newspapers and websites. Laine's Fish Radio programs air daily on more than 25 stations across Alaska.
Contact Laine at msfish[AT]

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