KODIAK -- And the Oscar goes to ... Yukon River salmon!
The story of wild Yukon River salmon claimed top honors last week from the James Beard Foundation at a celebrity-studded gala in New York City. Founded in 1986, the foundation celebrates and nurtures America's culinary heritage and diversity.
The award -- considered the Oscar of the food world -- was in the media TV Show/On Location category as part of a PBS series called "Chefs A' Field." The segment titled "King of Alaska" featured nationally acclaimed restaurateur and chef Rick Moonen and was filmed almost entirely in Emmonak. It was created by Heidi Hanson and Chris Warner of Warner-Hanson Television.
"This wasn't just a set-up deal where they put up some backdrops. The whole crew spent a week with the people on the lower Yukon," said Jack Schultheis, general manager of Kwik'pak Seafoods in Emmonak, who helped coordinate the project.
The segment was prompted by Moonen's interest in learning more about the culture and the people who produce what he calls the "monarch of all fish."
"I have yet to find something that has topped it in my life. It is the best fish I ever ate," Moonen says in the TV trailer, which features him and Emmonak fishermen catching and then cooking Yukon chum salmon.
Despite fishing closures for king salmon, Kwik'pak fishermen have been able to keep their high-end markets happy with Yukon chums.
"The Yukon is a very powerful brand -- of all the rivers to be on, it has helped raise the value of our fishery and we are very fortunate. Plus, we are able to say that it is the most nutritious salmon in the world," Schultheis said.
To back up that claim, Kwik'pak last year partnered with federal and independent testing labs to sample 35 fish from different salmon runs. The fat content averaged 16 percent, and the omega 3 oils topped 4 percent per 100 grams, three to four times higher than any other fish in the U.S. Department of Agriculture database.
"I was shocked," said Evette Hackman, a nutritionist who reviewed the results for Kwik'pak. "I contacted the lab to make sure there hadn't been a mistake."
The reason the fat and omega levels are so high is because Yukon salmon must fuel a swim of more than 2,000 miles upriver to spawn, compared with five to 20 miles for other chums.
Although they were invited, no one from Emmonak attended last week's Food Oscars in the Big Apple.
"Everyone is hunting spring birds and getting ready for breakup," Schultheis said as he was leaving Anchorage for the Yukon River, where he'll remain through the fall.
Crab loans launched
It has taken five years but the loan program designed to help deckhands buy shares of Bering Sea crab finally began its move through the regulatory pipeline last week.
"It was filed in the federal register as a proposed rule for 30 days. They will then review the comments, file a final rule and the program will be implemented sometime after that," said Linda Kozak, a Kodiak-based fishery consultant who works with crab quota share holders.
The crab loans are backed with $8 million in federal funding and will operate in the same way as the program for halibut and sablefish. Crabbers will be eligible to borrow 80 percent of the purchase price of crab catch shares; the low-interest loans can be repaid for up to 25 years.
Leo Erwin, chief of financial services at NOAA Fisheries, said the crab loan program should be running by Sept. 30, the end of the federal fiscal year.
That's not soon enough, say the crabbers.
"We are asking them to please move the process along faster so crab crew members can go out and find quota shares to purchase this summer and utilize the loan program when the crab season starts in October," Kozak said.
When the loan program comes on line it is unlikely to fuel a run on buying, predicted Jeff Osborn of Dock Street Brokers.
"Crew shares are available now in bits and pieces and there has not been a lot of interest. The loans might increase it but there are bigger issues in play," Osborn said, referring to uncertainties about how the 5-year-old crab catch share program might be tweaked in December.
Osborn said crew shares of red king crab are listed now at $17 per pound and snow crab at $7.
Public comments on the Bering Sea crab loan program will be accepted through June 4.
Seafood tech trek
The second International Congress on Seafood Technology takes place Monday through Thursday at the Hotel Captain Cook in Anchorage. World experts will discuss the latest innovations in seafood handling, processing, preservation, exporting, storage and transportation.
The seafood technology conference is organized by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the University of Alaska.
Laine Welch is a Kodiak-based fisheries journalist. Her Fish Radio programs can be heard on stations around the state. Her information column appears every other Sunday. This material is protected by copyright. For information on reprinting or placing on your website or newsletter, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.