By Laine Welch
November 21, 2005
Thanks to a $1 million federal economic development grant, Kachemak Bay shellfish farmers will soon break ground for a processing and education center for the region's 13 farmers, who produce roughly 40,000 dozen oysters each year. "The new plant will allow them to stabilize and expand production," said Gary Siems, president of the Kachemak Mariculture Association and the local Shellfish Growers Cooperative.
The farmers will also be able to keep their oysters in salt water holding tanks, allowing for more consistent deliveries to customers. "That will really help in the winter when it's tough to work around the weather. Now we can meet the market needs from week to week," Siems said. Alaska oysters go primarily to in-state customers, but interest is growing from Outside, especially after hurricanes devastated growing areas in Louisiana which provides more than 40 percent of U.S. oysters.
The new facility on the Homer
Spit, which is expected to create 70 jobs, will teach visitors
about the local shellfish industry, and give them a taste of
it as well. "People are always so interested when they see
our buoys out on the water," Siems said, referring to the
suspended lantern bags that hold the bivalves. "We'll show
them how we handle the oysters as they come in from the farm.
Then we'll shuck some up for them to eat at our raw bar,"
he added. Siems said he is hopeful the mariculture center
will be the first of many around the state. "There are so
many market opportunities and it is an industry that will be
around Alaska for a long time," he added.
The products will first be judged in January by a panel of seafood writers, buyers, and chefs from around the country (Oprah's personal chef, Art Smith, was a judge last year). The judging venue has been switched from Chicago, where it has been held for the past four years, to Vegas. "Chicago was great, but we wanted to move on and expose more places to these seafood products. They are perfect for buffets and casinos in Las Vegas," said event organizer Val Motley. The judging will occur on January 19 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel at Lake Las Vegas.
The Symphony then returns to
Anchorage for a "gala soiree" at the 4th Avenue Theater
on February 4, where all the winners will be announced. Last
year Orca Bay Seafoods took home the grand prize with its Alaska
sockeye fillets. But it's not just big seafood companies that
come up winners. JOMA Wild Seafoods of King Salmon, for example,
won a first place last year for its smoked salmon butter, and
people are still talking about the smoked salmon chile cheesecake
by winner Tom Jones of Sitka. All winners get a free trip to
the International Boston Seafood Show in March. Find applications
or call the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation in Anchorage.
Deadline for entry is December 2nd.
Among the 50 U.S. ports, Kodiak ranked #4 for both landings and value. That catch of 312.6 million pounds (up from 262.9 million) rang in at $91 million, a jump of $10 million from the previous year. Several other Alaska ports also had good showings: In terms of seafood landings, Petersburg ranked #12, Ketchikan #14, Naknek/King Salmon #16, Cordova #22, Seward #25, Sitka #26, Dillingham #34, Kenai #36, Homer $43, and Juneau at #49.
In terms of seafood value,
there were significant increases in several Alaska ports. Seward
ranked #7 on the list at $49.7 million, up from $39.4 million
in 2003. Sitka ranked #9 at $43.3 million, a boost of $18.5
million. The value of the catch at Petersburg increased to $34.2
million, $10 million more than the previous year. Naknek/King
Salmon netted the biggest gain at $41.4 million, a whopping increase
of $31 million from 2003. In all, Alaska's statewide catch last
year of 5.3 billion pounds of seafood was worth $1.1 billion
at the docks, four times more than any other U.S. region.
Wild Catch, published by Northwest Publishing Group, claims to be the world's first and only "business to business magazine that covers the wild seafood supply chain from net to market." Sipes added it will be a handy marketing and educational tool, especially at retail counters and restaurants. "Those people are generally the primary sources of information for consumers," he said.
Founding partners of Wild Catch include Ocean Beauty, AquaStar and Alaska Airlines; while leading industry professionals from the Chef's Collaborative, Seafood Choices Alliance, Marine Stewardship Council, Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, Southeastern Fisheries Association, Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board, among others, serve on the editorial advisory board. View the snazzy inaugural issue at www.wildcatchmagazine.com.
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