SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Fish Factor

Record prices; Genetically modified salmon; & more...


September 27, 2010

Halibut prices have remained through the ceiling since the fishery opened in mid March. Restaurateurs and retailers all say the same thing this year: People want Alaska halibut and they're willing to pay for it.

In recent years it's not uncommon for prices to top $5/lb for halibut at major ports, and that has been the case this year. Prices to fishermen at Kodiak last week ranged from $5.10-$5.35 and $5.60 per pound, depending on fish size. Prices were even higher at some ports.

So far, 87% of Alaska's halibut catch has crossed the docks, with just over 5 million pounds remaining in this year's 40.3 million pound catch limit. Top halibut ports for landings are Homer, Kodiak, Seward and Juneau.

Besides halibut, Alaska longliners also are getting record prices for sablefish (black cod) - for example, $5.20 /lb for small sizes, and topping $7/lb for 'seven ups.' For sablefish, 83% of the catch has been taken, with 4.3 million pounds remaining in the 25 million pound quota. Seward and Sitka are the top ports for sablefish landings.

Alaska's biggest fishery - pollock - will yield a bigger catch next year. As predicted, summer surveys showed the stocks appear on track for good recruitment into the fishery. At an industry/agency plan team meeting last week, "back of the envelope calculations' suggested a catch of between 1.1 and 1.3 million metric tons of Bering Sea pollock in 2011.

Alaska's salmon catch so far is approaching 165 million fish, compared to the forecast of 137 million salmon. Industry insiders predict the dock side value of the catch could approach $400 million.

Is it or Isn't it?

A panel of experts has urged the Food and Drug Administration to require more studies before approving genetically modified salmon for America's dinner plates. The fish would be the first animal product to get the GM nod for human consumption.

The "Frankenfish" hearings were held in Maryland last week by the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. The panel said it had lingering questions about the safety of genetically engineered salmon, without offering a view on whether the fish should come to market.

The retooled salmon, made by Massachusetts- based AquaBounty Technologies, has been awaiting FDA approval for more than a decade. The fish creators splice an anti-freeze gene from an ocean pout into the growth gene of a Chinook salmon, then transplants the combo- gene into the fertilized eggs of an Atlantic salmon. The result? An AquaAdvantage fish that grows up to 30 times faster than normal.

"We've been struggling for years to get Alaska salmon labeled organic, and the FDA doesn't want to do that. But here, they are tinkering around with genetic engineering and getting ready to approve something that I don't think they clearly understand," said Alaska Senator Mark Begich.

Begich said the FDA has neither the resources nor the ability to monitor the new fish for food safety.

"They have never informed us how they intend to monitor or manage these animals as they go down this path of GM products, which hasn't been done before," he said of the newly evolving science.

Food safety aside, American salmon lovers won't know if they are buying the real deal or the Frankenfish. Because the modified salmon is categorized as a "veterinary procedure," the FDA insists no labeling is required to alert consumers.

"At a time when American consumers say food safety is their number one concern, I think that is outrageous," said Begich.

"In my view, it's going to have an impact on jobs in Alaska and across the nation due to a product that is inferior to what the public is accustomed to: real fish.

Senator Begich said he plans to introduce legislation that would require any GM animal products to be labeled.

The public can comment to the FDA on GM food labeling through November 22. Docket No: FDA-2010 -N-0385.

Gonads good for feeds

Scientists at the Fishery Industrial Technology Center in Kodiak are always looking at ways to find value in byproducts of seafood processing. One promising project is fish feeds from testes.

"It turns out some factors found in fish testes can apparently assist fish in strengthening their immune systems to resist viral challenges," said Dr. Scott Smiley, who added that pink salmon and pollock were used as gonad 'guinea pigs'.

"You could add it to feeds to assist fish in enclosed areas that are more subject to viral infection, such as impounded herring or aquaculture species. A farmer would probably pay a lot to avoid having a viral disease run through his stocks," Smiley said.

Gonad meal also provides a number of hefty steroid hormones "so you are getting a more muscular, more home run hitting fish," he added.

Smiley said it is not labor intensive to get gonads from the fish.

"They are easy to see," he explained, "and the process of making good meal is quite quick, at a reduction facility or in a variety of other ways. No bone is associated with it and little lipid (fats), so you can get the whole thing quickly and easily."

At a time when aquaculture is at the forefront around the world, Smiley said feeds made with pink salmon or pollock gonad meal could be very valuable to Alaska.



This weekly column focusing on Alaska's seafood industry began in 1991, and it now appears in over 20 newspapers and web sites. A spin off - Fish Radio - airs weekdays on 30 radio stations in Alaska. The goal of both is to make all people aware of the economic and social importance of Alaska's fishing industry to our state, the nation and the world. Happy New Year and thanks for your continued support of fishing news!

Laine can be reached at msfish[AT]


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Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska

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