SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Fish Factor

Ketchikan counts on shellfish
By Laine Welch


March 25, 2007
Sunday AM

Construction is set to begin this summer on the Oceans Alaska Marine Science Center near Ketchikan. The new non profit was created last year when the state and the Ketchikan Gateway Borough donated 28 acres to build the facility, which aims to be the hub for building a global shellfish industry for Alaska shellfish.

"Economic development is the primary thing. If we look at what the opportunities are in for year round, sustainable jobs in Southeast, Prince William Sound, the Kenai Peninsula and along the Aleutians, the shellfish industry is one of the best options we have. A focus will be on how we can help the industry grow," said project manager, John Sund.

Alaska currently has 34 shellfish farms throughout Southeast Alaska and 27 in the South Central region (Prince William Sound and near Homer). Values last year (primarily oysters) totaled just over $676,000, split almost evenly between the two regions.

Sund said if the dive fisheries for geoduck clams, sea cucumbers and urchins are included, total shellfish values for Southeast Alaska top $7 million. Research economists estimate the region's shellfish value could reach $50 to $100 million if production was increased through aquaculture.

Sund believes the state could enjoy similar financial gains and points to New Zealand as an example. "The green mussel industry there struggled for years until they formed a collaboration with the government and researchers and learned how to freeze the mussels. That took them into the world market from $18 million to a $100 million industry," he said, pointing to similar successes with cultured scallops in Japan, clams in Florida, and oysters and geoduck clams in British Columbia.

Ray RaLonde, an aquaculture expert with Alaska Sea Grant, agrees that shellfish aquaculture provides huge opportunities for Alaska..

"Right now there is growing demand for Alaska shellfish ­ what we lack is enough production," RaLonde said, adding that co-operative farming is the best way for the fledgling industry to move forward.

In Ketchikan, projects are already underway even before the Oceans Alaska facility is built. "We don't need a building to help move the research projects and our mission forward," Sund said.

The Oceans Alaska board is seeking an executive director. Contact is or . Also, the state Dept. of Natural Resources is accepting applications for shellfish and sea plant farms through April 30.

Waterless transport technology

Shipping live or fresh fish without water or ice would save millions of dollars for seafood companies. A new waterless transport method could soon allow fish shippers to do just that.

Waterless transport technology has won several international "best invention" awards for Bonifacio Comandante of the Philippines, who presented the concept as his master's thesis two years ago at a San Francisco university. Since then, investors from Australia and Japan have partnered with Comandante to bring the benefits and savings to their countries.

Comandante's transport process involves bathing fishes in a proprietary 'buhi blend' that puts them in a soothing state of hibernation.

"It's an organic compound found naturally in the water, and I just found a way to trigger a hibernation process in fish," Comandante said in a phone interview last week as he was on his way to the International Boston Seafood Show.

The hibernating fishes are kept at a controlled temperature and shipped upright in a vertical position to ensure that their gill covers remain open. Comandante said he has tested the transport method on 12 species of fish with 100 percent success.

"From the Philippines, we're shipping three kinds of groupers, two kinds of snappers and many crustaceans and mollusks," he said, estimating the savings from Southeast Asia to Hong Kong at $85 million for live products.
The inventor recently signed a $4 million contract to apply the technology to Australia's top seafood exports to the U.S. and Japan: tuna, rainbow trout and salmon.
"In Australia, we were successful in putting live salmon into hibernation for 10 to 12 hours," he said.

Comandante said his buhi blend shipping method has an even bigger application for fresh fish because it eliminates the need for ice.

"Normally when you send fresh fishes you need ice to go along with the fish. Without ice, you save somewhere between 20-25 percent in freight costs," he said. "If you figure the volume that is traded worldwide that goes to Hong Kong, China and Japan, the instant savings would be about $248 million," he said.

The buhi blend can also be applied to fish processing. "You can time the death of the fishes before you process them," Comandante explained.

His Philippines-based company, Buhi International Group, is awaiting an international patent before fully commercializing the waterless shipping technology in selected countries. Comandante said he is very interested in "networking" with Alaska producers.

Meanwhile, the inventor is a finalist in a May 21 World Bank competition for another innovative project that boosts the nutritional content of shellfish by 70 percent.

"The vitamins and green algae I use make up an acronym for Viagra, but it's not what you think," he said with a laugh. Get more information about Comandante's inventions at or via email at

Lost in translation

Reports from Japanese newspapers that major buyers were bailing out of Alaska's biggest herring fishery at Bristol Bay were way off base.

A thorough canvassing by KDLG revealed that five processors have signed up to purchase Togiak roe herring: Icicle, Trident, Norquest, Yardarm Knot and North Pacific Seafoods. A Norquest spokesman said poor prices and reduced demand for herring have forced processors to scale back their operations in the Togiak fishery, and several will be operating with fewer tenders and a smaller fleet.

The Togiak herring quota this year is 26,000 tons, but state fishery manager Tim Sands told KDLG his poll of processors indicates they only intend to buy about 16,000 tons. The Togiak roe herring fishery, which typically gets underway in May, was worth $2.6 million to fishermen last year.

Laine Welch has been covering news of Alaska's seafood industry since 1988. 2007 marks the 16th year that she has been writing this weekly fisheries column. It now appears in nearly 20 newspapers and web outlets.
Contact Laine at msfish[AT]

Publish A Letter on SitNews
        Read Letters/Opinions
Submit A Letter to the Editor

Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska