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Fish Factor

Key to buying fish is deciphering seafood lingo
By Maggie Wall


June 25, 2006

When you buy fish at the market-and I do hope you buy lots of Alaska fish products-you may notice unfamiliar words and numbers on the package. Deciphering those fish hieroglyphics is the key to getting the best buy and the best product for your particular use.

Seafood is often identified and sold by weight. For instance a package of shrimp may say something like 36 to 45. That means there 36-45 pieces of shrimp per pound in that package-pretty small ones, actually. Or maybe the package says 11 to15 which means about a dozen per pound and quite a bit larger than the previous package.

Another thing to keep in mind with shrimp is peeling and deveining-also called P-and-D. Peeling and deveining removes about half the weight. So a package of jumbo 11-15 P&D shrimp contains bigger shrimp than a package of 11-15 unpeeled.

A good rule of thumb for shrimp is use the smaller for soups and salads. The larger ones are better for eating individually and in kabobs.

Now, on to scallops. Scallops are also measured and sold on a per pound method. Scallops might carry a U-10 label which means there are 10 Units per pound. Units being the part that you eat, which really is a muscle that holds the two scallop shells together. Sometimes people call these muscles "buttons".

And here's something we really should clear up about scallops. Scallops are sold by the weight of the shucked meat. No shells. They have lovely shells, but you're not likely to find any meat for sale in a shell because scallops are shucked right on deck long before the tasty buttons find their way to shore.

Next time you buy scallops, remember those industrious crewmembers popping open those shells and shucking out those buttons. Talk about a lot of work. Talk about sore hands!!

Crab sales are based on a poundage formula with a bit of a twist. For instance King Crab legs are sold by the number of legs per 10 pound box. King Crab legs weigh close to a pound each, so a 9 to 12 designation means you're getting 9 to 12 legs per 10 pound box.

Snow Crab, on the other hand, are sold based on the number of clusters in a 20 pound box. A cluster being the leg and the part of the body where the leg connects. Oh, and sometimes Snow Crab are sold in 30 pound boxes, and sometimes they are sold whole. However you buy them, they sure taste good.

Sometimes the fish you buy will be labeled IQF-not to be confused with IFQs-IQF stands for Individually Quick Frozen. Pollock is often sold in shatter packs with each fillet individually frozen and packed with other pollock fillets to make up a certain poundage. These are great for individual dinner servings as most pollock fillets are 2 to 4 ounces in size. It's also a good way to buy in bulk since a10 or 15 pound shatter pack gets you scads of individually frozen fillets that you can pull out of the freezer as you need them.

In Kodiak the processors often donate IQF fish to non-profits for various fund raisers, raffles, what have you. You'll hear people say: What would I do with 15 pounds of pollock? They seem clueless about shatter packs. Those in the know, take the fish and run with their booty knowing how many great meals they'll be eating.

There could be a reason people think of frozen pollock as big chunks of fish. Most Alaska pollock are sold not to individuals, but to big firms that make countless fish chips, fish sticks, and fish sandwiches. Now these folks actually prefer their pollock frozen in big heavy blocks. The pollock compressed into frozen blocks are cut into uniform chunks while still frozen, then are breaded, and turned into the familiar sticks. No futzing with the individual fish and the compression combined with the freezing compacts the pieces together enough without squishing so they can be cut into whatever size or shape required.

And if all that seafood lingo wasn't confusing enough, you could opt for surimi made to look and taste like shellfish. Surimi is made from Alaska pollock that is finely chopped and rinsed many times before being formed into a white paste that can be colored and flavored to imitate any number of fish-such as shrimp, scallop and crab.

Which brings us back to where we started. And you thought fish regulations were confusing.

FISHING BOATS IN BRISTOL BAY will be flying flags this summer protesting the proposed Pebble Mine. The flag statement is sponsored in part by the Alaska Independent Fishermen's Marketing Association located in Seattle which plans to distribute the flags showing the words Pebble Mine with a red X through it at various events and locations around Bristol Bay.

Nearly 33 million sockeye salmon are expected to return to the bay in the next several weeks and fishers fear the mine could jeopardize future fisheries by destroying the pristine waters of the region.

Like anything involving jobs and livelihoods, the mine is a hot topic with people on both sides. Those supporting the mine say it will bring a lot of good paying jobs to the region.

AIFMA is the largest salmon fishing association in Bristol Bay. Other sponsors include Peter Pan Seafoods and the Renewable Resources Coalition.

YET ANOTHER GOOD REPORT on the health benefits of fish oil came out this week. Sydney researchers say people who eat low levels of fish oil are more likely to suffer mood disorders and neurological disorders.

The Australian Associated Press reports on the results of a study by Sydney's Black Dog Institute. The study found mothers with higher levels of Omega 3 fatty acids were less likely to suffer post partum depression. Lead researcher Gordon Parker told the Australian A-P that his work "found Omega-3 fish oil supplements could be used effectively alongside antidepressants for people suffering depression."

Parker also notes that more research is needed to figure out the best ratio of Omega 3s and the best dosage for maximum results.

Maggie Wall is an award winning Kodiak journalist filling
in for the vacationing Laine Welch.
She can be reached at

Laine Welch has been covering news of Alaska's seafood industry since 1988. Her Fish Factor column appears weekly in over a dozen papers and websites. Her Fish Radio programs air on 27 stations across Alaska.

Contact Laine at msfish[AT]

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