SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Fish Factor

New plant will shuck and show oysters
By Laine Welch


November 21, 2005

Visitors to the Homer Spit will soon learn a lot about local oysters, and have a chance to slurp a few.

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.
jpg Laine Welch

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.
SEAFOOD SYMPHONY - The call is out for Alaska seafood products for the 2006 Symphony of Seafood contest.  Now in its 13th year, the Symphony showcases an array of new seafood items that are rated in three categories: retail, food service and smoked.

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 at  or call the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation in Anchorage. Deadline for entry is December 2nd.
DUTCH DOES IT AGAIN ­ For the 16th year in a row, Dutch Harbor/Unalaska topped the list as the nation's #1 port for seafood landings. According to NOAA Fisheries, 886.4 million pounds of fish and shellfish crossed the docks in Dutch last year, down just slightly from 2003. In terms of seafood value, Dutch Harbor's $155 million came in second to New Bedford, Massachusetts at $206.5 million. (New Bedford has been the most valuable U.S. port for five years running.)

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 ­A newcomer to magazine stands aims to set the record straight on wild seafood. More people are opting for "ocean caught fish" (the new buzz phrase), but it is the least understood of all protein sources.   "There are so many fisheries throughout the world and so little is known about them. People are so confused and concerned about contaminants and overfishing. Wild Catch intends to fill that information void so they can feel comfortable about buying and eating wild seafood," said editor Doug Sipes.

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


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.

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