SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Fish Factor

"Food miles" track how far food travels to reach consumer

By Laine Welch


June 03, 2007

As people around the world ponder ways to protect our planet from the impacts of global warming, "food miles" are being used as a measure of how far food travels before it reaches the consumer. The logic is the fewer miles foods are transported the less fuel is used, thereby reducing the "carbon footprint" on the environment.

The concept of food miles is being embraced by Big Business. At a gathering last week at the Monterey Aquarium, Whole Foods, Bon Appetit and Wal-Mart announced they are doing more to reduce the distances they use in transporting the foods they purchase.

"I think food miles is going to be the next big issue of sustainability," Peter Redmond, Wal-Mart's vice president in charge of seafood said in press reports.

Redmond called supporting sustainability issues "good for business" and part of Wal-Mart's "business plan." Last year the world's largest retailer led the charge to source its seafoods only from fisheries certified as sustainable and well managed by the international Marine Stewardship Council.

Alaska's largest fisheries - salmon, pollock and halibut - have the MSC stamp of approval. That gives Alaska a big advantage in terms of 'earth friendly' seafood purchases. But how will Alaska's distance from markets be affected by food miles?

"My first response is you've got to get the fish from where the fish are. They are going to have to source Alaska seafood from Alaska, regardless of whether it's close or far," said Ray Riutta, director of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.

Riutta said sourcing products closer to home is a great concept - if you have them. While it's good to be idealistic, it's also important to be realistic.

"Half the seafood produced in the U.S. comes from Alaska, so the reality is that a lot of the seafood going into these stores will come from Alaska, regardless of the distance. If they want wild seafood they're going to have to get it from Alaska," he said.

Riutta added that reducing 'food miles' and 'carbon footprints' is part of a larger trend toward protecting the environment, and ultimately, he believes that will reflect well on Alaska.

"We have a heck of a good story to tell. Clearly, we've got the best sustainability story in the world, so anyone who is interested in supporting well managed fisheries is going to source their seafood from Alaska first," he said.

Riutta added that it will be a challenge to make sure the buying public is aware of what Alaska has to offer "in terms of our seafood coming from a state that takes great pride in protecting its natural environment."

Wild salmon fuels athletes

Several of the nation's top athletes are making wild salmon jerky sticks from Kodiak a big part of their everyday diet.

The snack sticks might have given the edge to world and Olympic speed skating champ Apolo Anton Ohno, who last week took home the trophy in TV's hugely popular (and grueling) 'Dancing With the Stars' competition while in training for the 2010 Olympics.

Kodiak Solstix are made from locally caught pink salmon and packaged in spicy pepper and teriyaki flavors. The shelf stable, grab and go snacks are marketed under the Alaska Spirit label, and were created with athletes in mind, said co- co-creator Mark Witteveen. He and partner Rob Baer pitched the Solstix to former world power lifting champion John Schaeffer, now a nutritionist and professional athlete trainer

"He works with Apolo and U.S. short track skating champion Allison Baver and Giddeon Massie, a U.S. sprint cycling champ, and several other athletes. He started putting Kodiak Solstix into their nutrition regimen and some of them eat five or six packages a day ­ they are really liking the results," Witteveen said.

The protein packed snack sticks are also a big hit with super middle weight boxer Wayne Johnsen, who will fight in an HBO televised event on June 9th at New York's Madison Square Garden.

"His entire ring side crew and a lot of our athletes will be in the audience wearing 'Team Johnsen ­ Fueled by Kodiak Solstix' tee shirts," Witteveen said.

Meanwhile, the Kodiak entrepreneurs (both also are state fishery biologists) are moving their operation into a new and larger production facility. They are expanding distribution throughout the Lower 48, and intent upon getting Solstix into school vending machines. Witteveen said they will soon increase their product line with halibut and pollock snack items.

Tongues and cheeks

Resurgence in popularity of cod tongues topped the fish press last week, and prompted another look at how millions of tons of fish discards can be turned into items that are useful or delicious.

Newfoundland's Globe and Mail reported, for example, that long ago cod tongues would provide pocket money for kids at a rate of 15 cents per dozen. Today the tongues are selling for $8.50 a pound, fresh or frozen, at local grocers. Hotels and restaurants are serving crispy fried cod tongues for $13 per plate or more and they are said to be a top seller.

Alaska's catch quota this year of more than half a billion pounds could add up to a lot of tasty cod tongues!

Likewise, halibut cheeks can also mean kaching! at seafood sellers' cash registers.
"I don't know any company that doesn't cut out the cheeks," said one Kodiak major processor.

"We always send out our halibut with the heads on," said another big buyer at Petersburg.

"I am a huge fan of halibut cheeks. I think that is one of the greatest cuts of fish of all times," said seafood Roger Berkowitz, head of the east coast Legal Seafoods chain of restaurants and fish markets.
Halibut cheeks were retailing for $15.99 a pound at Seattle's Pikes Place Market. Several Alaska-based seafood web sites were selling cheeks from $17.95 to nearly $22 a pound. was featuring halibut cheeks at four packs of three cheeks for $52.50.

Federal figures estimate that U.S. fisheries on average throw away 22 percent, or more than one million tons, of all the fish harvested. Alaska has the lowest discard levels, and state seafood companies and researchers are making advances in finding more uses for fish by-products, including powders, omega-3 laden oils, and other marine based nutriceuticals and pharmaceuticals.

To denote the value inherent in fish wastes, they have been dubbed 'co-products' by Peter Bechtel, a leading scientist at the University of Alaska/Fairbanks. The Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation is planning a major conference that will convene global 'co-products' leaders in Alaska early next 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]

This article is protected by copyright and may not be reprinted or distributed without permission. Contact msfish[AT]
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