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Wringing profit from crab shells starts with Tidal Grow

Turning crab shells into everyday products is becoming a reality for the Tidal Vision team of ecoentrepreneurs from Juneau.

The products are derived from chitin in the crab shells, the second most abundant biopolymer on the planet after cellulose. Chitin is found in fungi, plankton and the exoskeletons of insects and crustaceans. An estimated 100 billion tons a year are produced.

The miracle substance can be spun into fabrics, filters, bioplastics, bandages, stitches, even car coatings with self-healing scratches. Since the 1950s, chitin has only been produced in China and India, where the use and disposal of harsh extraction chemicals is less restrictive. Tidal Vision's proprietary method of obtaining chitin from crab shells using a chemical-free method is a first, making them the only maker of chitin-based products in the country.

As the team builds stockpiles of chitin from Alaska crab shells and hones their equipment and methods at a pilot plant near Seattle, a first product to hit the market is Tidal Grow.

"It's an organic nitrogen source with 11 essential plant nutrients," explained Craig Kasberg, Tidal Vision's "captain" executive officer. "It can be a pH adjuster for soil and reduce the need for other soil amendments, and it's loaded with calcium."

Companies in Washington also are buying bags of dried chitin flakes to filter water going into Puget Sound.

"Sometimes it is built into filters, but for stormwater systems it's used as a flocculent, meaning it's mixed in with the water and bonds to toxic particles throughout the mixing process," Kasberg said.

In its liquid form, Alaska chitosan is serving another customer — wines.
"The wine industry uses the same process to clarify it and settle out some of the solid particles in the wine as a finishing agent. It's the same concept," Kasberg explained.

Tidal Vision also has teamed with  Floral Soil Solutions  to make biobased flower foams.

"They make an all-natural foam for florists that is used in Whole Foods across the country and by several other big flower outlets to replace the petroleum-based screen foam that's been the industry standard for about 40 years," he said.

Also in the offing:  Tidal Scrub, a chitin-based kitchen sponge that naturally kills bacteria. "There is a common saying that there's more bacteria in your kitchen sink than in your toilet. That grabs quite a few people's attention as an example of how chitin can really make a difference in day-to-day life," Kasberg added.
At the same time, Tidal Vision is perfecting its bacteria-killing ChitoSkin fabrics and working with the product-development team at Grundens, the waterproof clothing manufacturer.

The ultimate goal, Kasberg said, is to bring Tidal Vision's entire operation to Alaska within two years, including mobile plants that can extract chitin from crab shells in remote locations. Prices for chitin can range from $10 to $30,000 a pound — even $150,000 a pound for pharmaceutical grades.

Chompin’ on chinooks

Killer whales eat an estimated 375 pounds of food a day — mostly salmon. That's about how much salmon 200 Americans eat in a year, according to Science magazine.

The diet determination was made using an analysis of fish DNA in killer whale poop.

Detailing killer whale diets helps scientists understand interactions between predators and prey. After all, observing what killer whales eat is difficult.

In this study, the authors used genetic analysis of fecal material collected in the whales' summer range in the Salish Sea in the Pacific Northwest. They genetically sequenced 175 fecal samples collected from 2006-2011.

Researchers found that salmon made up nearly 98 percent of the sequences, which they concluded is the bulk of a killer whale's diet.

Of the five salmon species, king salmon made up 80 percent of the sequences, followed by silvers at 15 percent.

Billions in the bay

This summer at Bristol Bay, the 2 billionth sockeye salmon will be landed in the 133rd year of the fishery. That adds up to about 12 billion pounds of sockeye, according to fishery historian Bob King.

It took 95 years for Bristol Bay to produce its first billion salmon, a milestone set on June 28, 1975 in the Nushagak River. The second billion will occur 38 years later and the 3 billionth sockeye salmon should be taken in 2054.

Fishermen’s almanac

Highlighting the life and skills of fishermen is the theme of  the Young Fishermen's Almanac being put together by the Alaska Marine Conservation Council and the Alaska Young Fishermen's Network. Submissions are sought for the first edition

"This is a book-length publication that will feature stories, art and a wide variety of other information that is reflective of Alaska's fishing traditions," said Hannah Heimbuch, AMCC's Community Fisheries Organizer, adding that the idea came from the Young Farmer's Almanac developed in the Lower 48.

"It will have a really wide variety of information ­— short stories, poetry, photography and other visual art. It also would be fun to have fishermen's jokes, top-10 lists, how-tos and favorite recipes," Heimbuch said.

The groups have reached out to the Young Fishermen's Network to find a diverse group of men and women to help steer the project, but anyone is encouraged to share their experiences and knowledge.

"Whatever people want to share is great," she said. "All different kinds of artwork is welcome, or if people want to tell a joke or describe their worst or best days of fishing. The hope is that anybody could open to any page and find something interesting or quirky or funny that would be a good addition to their day."

Submit pieces to almanac@akmarine.org

Laine Welch is a Kodiak-based commercial fishing columnist. Contact her at msfish@alaskan.com

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