Alaska has what it takes to create more seafood offerings.
By Laine Welch
August 07, 2006
"I expected the plants to be small operations, but they are huge," said food chemist Susan Brewer after visiting Kodiak's Ocean Beauty and Alaska Pacific Seafoods plants. "They are very mechanized and have processing equipment I've never seen. The workers were all so professional and efficient. It was a real education especially pumping the fish off the boats," she added with a laugh.
After watching rockfish fillets being flash frozen and boxed up for shipment, and fresh salmon making its way along processing lines minutes after being offloaded from a tender boat, meat scientist Floyd McKeith said "without a doubt" Alaska has what it takes to create more seafood offerings. "You've got the plants, the people and very high quality raw materials that will produce excellent products. It's an opportunity for the fish industry to explore alternative ways to add more value here in Alaska before it leaves the state. That's the name of the game across all muscle foods in the U.S. and we're here to help," he said.
McKeith and Brewer agree that increased awareness of the healthfulness of wild salmon helps set the stage for acceptance by baby food manufactures. They caution, however, that geography might initially dictate success in the marketplace. "In the mid-west or southwest, it might be very challenging. On the west and east coasts, I assume there would be more opportunities because people there eat much more fish. It depends on how it is marketed," McKeith said.
Susan Brewer, who also is a nutrition specialist, said fish based baby foods are far more likely to be accepted today than 10 or 20 years ago. "Partly because our food habits have changed and there is much more ethnic diversity. People are also more informed about nutrition, and there is tremendous interest in health and wellness in this generation of parents than ever before," she said.
The fact that salmon is now so familiar to Americans also is a big plus. "We can buy salmon every day in our local supermarkets in the mid-west, and it is always on the menus at upscale restaurants. That wasn't the case ten years ago. If the gatekeepers, especially the Mom's, eat it and like it, they will feed it to their kids," Brewer said. "Food habits are shaped up to five years old. If they are not introduced to fish by then, chances are they won't choose it later on. Getting to kids early is the key."
The Illinois scientists are
collaborating on the federally funded, multi-year project with
University of Alaska researchers at Kodiak's Fishery Industrial
Technology Center, with oversight from the Alaska Fisheries Development
Foundation. Along with salmon baby foods (pate and chunk style),
the researchers are also developing packaged salmon chunks for
salads, and shelf-stable salmon powders and sprinkles that can
be added to "do it yourself" dips, sauces and cheese
The region is salmon ecosystem
dependent, and accounts for nearly 64 percent of all employment
with an associated payroll of about $190 million in 2005. Salmon
also represent 52 percent of the region's subsistence harvests.
"The fish and the entire environment around the salmon drives not only the commercial fishery but also almost all the recreation and tourism activity. The estimated payroll associated with salmon ecosystem dependent jobs was $188.8 million in 2005. Tourism adds about another $100 million plus, mostly for fishing,but also for wildlife viewing and other activities in the region," Goldsmith told KDLG.
Next to commercial fishing and processing, sport fishing is the second most important economic engine in Bristol Bay, accounting for $122 million last year. "That comes mostly from nonresidents who come to fish at high end lodges," Goldsmith said, adding that anglers say they are attracted by the region's uncrowded, remote, and wild setting.
Last year nearly 64,409 recreational visitors came to the region, spending nearly $152.644 million on trip related expenditures. Most trips were related to sport fishing, although hunting and "passive use" trips such as wildlife viewing, kayaking, bird watching, hiking, etc. were also popular and accounted for significant spending.
Bristol Bay's population is estimated at 7,600 people in 25 communities. The share of the population that is Alaska native is 70 percent, compared to Alaska as a whole at 16 percent. Goldsmith said the extreme seasonal nature of the regional economy is startling.
"What was most interesting for me as an economist was to be able to quantify how much variation is going on out there. There are about five times as many jobs in the summer than in the winter. That is unprecedentedit's really amazing," he said. According to the report, summer employment climbs by almost 14,000 jobs to a total of 17,750 and declines in winter to 3,640 jobs.
The Bristol Bay Salmon Watershed Study includes visitor reactions to the proposed copper and gold mine and accompanying roads that would run through the heart of the region. Find the report at www.iser.uaa.alaska.edu.
Fish hopefuls Seven names have been added to a list of candidates hoping for a seat on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council recently vacated by Petersburg fisherman Arne Fuglvog. They include: Joe Childers and Robert Loescher of Juneau, Bennie Ellis of Anchorage, Gerry Merrigan of Petersburg, and Duncan Fields, Walter Sargent and Jeff Stephen from Kodiak. Industry insiders say Governor Murkowski will likely wait until after the Aug. 22 primary to select three names to be forwarded on to the Secretary of Commerce for final approval. Fuglvog resigned his seat on the federal fishery advisory panel to take a new job as fisheries aide to Sen. Lisa Murkowski.
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