"Co-products" is the big new buzz word in the seafood industry as more companies move toward "head to tail" uses for fish.
"For instance, the oils we are producing now from pollock livers has become so valuable in capsules and other human nutraceutical products, it makes no sense to call the livers a 'byproduct' of the fillets or surimi. All of it is important in the puzzle of how to maximize the value of each fish caught," said Alex Oliveira, a food specialist at the Kodiak Seafood and Marine Science Center, a satellite campus of the UAF School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences.
Oliveira specializes in marine lipids -- fats -- and food flavor chemistry. The pollock oil supplements she helped develop in partnership with American Seafoods Company are marketed under the 54°N label. Her research also has spawned powdered products made from pollock milt and roe that are popular in Asian markets, and she helped launch the first freeze-dried Alaska sockeye salmon bites for NASA astronauts.
Now, armed with a grant from the Alaska pollock industry, Oliveira is rolling up her sleeves to turn pollock skins into pet treats.
"It will be a nutritious, low-fat treat from a marine source, instead of a land animal byproduct," she said, adding that two products will be tested: slices and skin roll-ups.
It's a lengthy process getting any new food item to market, for pets and people.
"We have to know the nutritional values and shelf life limitations -- that it is not undergoing undesirable chemical changes over storage. And there has to be a process for production of a good, safe product," Oliveira explained. "Plus, nobody wants a pet treat that crumbles all over the carpet and makes your house stink, or leaves your pet's breath smelling like dead fish."
In a couple of years, the research will show which product has a better chance in the market. Then comes testing for acceptance by pets and, more importantly, their owners.
"The pets are generally the easy ones, at least for dogs," Oliveira said, "but the owner has to want to buy it."
Another Alaska pollock study underway at the center is measuring the freshness and nutritional values of every part of the fish the moment it is caught. That project also is funded by the Pollock Conservation Cooperative Research Center, which since 2000 has contributed $13 million toward research on North Pacific fisheries, habitat and marine mammals.
Alaska food gurus
All foods need the same kinds of scientific scrutiny to make sure they are nutritious, tasty and safe to eat. Oliveira and her colleagues at the KSMSC are the only research specialists in Alaska who investigate the physical, microbiological and chemical makeups of food. Their stamp of approval also ensures that foods meet the stringent state and federal safety requirements for sale in the U.S. and abroad.
Seafood plays a big role at the Kodiak-based center but the research and testing done there applies to all Alaska food products -- berries, fruit bars, candies, wild game or sauces. Any food producers can avail themselves of the center's expertise and services -- from a mom-and-pop shop to a major company. The KSMSC also houses Alaska's only real- world, mini-processing plant for up-to-your-elbows testing and packaging of any food products. The staff also train and mentor Alaska's next generations of food scientists. Learn more at www.sfos.uaf.edu/ksmsc.
For the first time, the jig fleet can pull up a two-fer in the state water fishery that's just gotten underway in the Gulf of Alaska: pollock along with their cod. Jigging for pollock has been open before in federal waters but with little to no effort.
"Currently those federal pollock seasons occur in the winter or when the weather is poor. So this test fishery will provide them an opportunity during a period when they are actively fishing," said Trent Hartill, a state groundfish biologist at Kodiak. "The jig fleet expressed a lot of interest in being able to have the extra opportunity to harvest pollock."
"This will give them a chance to determine how to catch pollock and at what levels, and also to test the market to see what the processor interest is in buying the fish during different times of the year," added biologist Mark Stichert.
Where they catch the pollock, when and how much is what the managers said they will be watching in the test fishery to see if it is viable.
Blustery weather kept most boats tied to the docks during the first week of the halibut fishery. Sixty-five deliveries brought in just over 400,000 pounds since the opener on March 8. Prices to fishermen topped $7 per pound for 40-ups at Homer, $6.50 for all sizes at Southeast and in the $6 range at Kodiak. The prices are similar to the start of the season last year, when demand is high for the first fresh fish.
Laine Welch is a Kodiak-based fisheries journalist. Contact her at email@example.com.