Laine Welch: Seafood gala debuts new products; Small boats to dredge for scallops

Laine Welch

Eleven new seafood products from seven companies will be showcased at the upcoming Symphony of Seafood galas in Seattle and Anchorage. In its 21 years, the event has introduced and promoted hundreds of new Alaska seafood items to the marketplace.

"Developing new products is really hard," said Julie Decker, new executive director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, which hosts the event. (Decker replaces Jim Browning, who retired.) "It costs a lot of money, takes a lot of time and attention, and sometimes the products are wonderful and sometimes they are not. So this event really helps companies determine how the marketplace is going to receive their product."

Entries this year include beer-battered cod; a ready-to-eat, grilled pollock fillet; all-natural Keta Salmon Jerky and Little Sammies in a blanket made with salmon franks.

On Feb. 5 in Seattle, an expert panel will judge all the products in three categories: retail, food service and smoked. Winners will be kept secret and announced after a tasting bash at the Anchorage Hilton on Feb. 13. All top entries -- plus a grand prize winner selected by voters -- will receive a trip to and booth space at the International Boston Seafood Show in March.

New life for old fishery

Small-boat fishermen will have a chance to dredge for Weathervane scallops this summer. Starting July 1, state waters of Yakutat, Prince William Sound, Shelikof Strait and Dutch Harbor will be open to any vessel that registers for the fishery before April 1.

Only four or five boats have targeted Alaska scallops since the fishery went to limited entry 15 years ago, after waves of East Coast boats boosted the number to more than 20. The boats today are usually 70 to 80 feet, but some 58-footers also have participated, said Wayne Donaldson, state regional shellfish manager at Kodiak. The total Alaska catch is usually half a million pounds of shucked meats.

"You need a boat that has enough horsepower to pull a scallop dredge along the bottom, and you need enough deck space to haul up the dredge and to sort out the scallops. So we will see how small the boats are that decide to jump into it."

USA Strong

Seafood is by far Alaska's top export, and a strong dollar means higher cost for global customers.

"The dollar is really strengthening against a basket of other currencies because the U.S. economy is doing better than many other places," said market expert John Sackton of "So it makes imports of things like farmed shrimp, salmon or tilapia less expensive for the U.S. to buy, and it makes exports from the U.S. more expensive in the host currency, whether it's Yen or Euro, Canadian or Yuan or whatever."

Each year between 60 to 70 percent of Alaska's seafood is exported, Sackton said. "But I would think of (this) more as a headwind, rather than a change in direction."

Laine welch