Genetically tweaked salmon that grow three times faster than normal fish. Fillets grown in labs from fish cells. Now plant-based seafoods such as “vegan shrimp,” or “Toona,” are gaining footholds in the marketplace - and confusing customers.
A new study by FoodMinds for the National Fisheries Institute showed that about 40 percent of consumers believed plant-based imitations contain actual seafood. Up to 60 percent thought the products had similar nutritional content as real fish. Still, fake-seafood producers are pushing back against more accurate labeling, claiming without any evidence that customers know what they are getting.
“We have to ensure that the labels are educating people about something as simple as what’s in the package. A lot of these plant-based alternative makers have even suggested that they have the ‘first amendment right’ to call their products whatever they want. And that’s simply not the case,” said Gavin Gibbons, NFI vice president for communications.
Good Catch Foods, for example, positions itself as a “seafood company” and New Wave Foods calls itself “shellfish evolved.”
“During our consumer research, three of the five vegan seafood products we displayed were less nutritious than real fish. They had less protein and more saturated fat and sodium. Yet, almost 60% of the respondents thought that they all had similar nutritional content between actual fish and the highly processed plant based alternatives. So they're actually being misled in some of these particular labeling scenarios,” Gibbons said.
“In what society is it not a proper government role to ensure that consumers get the food that a label claims is in the package? The government has a legitimate interest in ensuring accurate labeling of foods. Otherwise, why not call ground meat filet mignon?” John Connelly, NFI president, wrote in a March 2 opinion piece.
There’s nothing wrong with the vegan seafood products, Gibbons said, and they can make an important contribution to a growing world. But the makers don’t even want the term “imitation” seafood included on their packaging.
“Consumers have a right to know what's in the package and what's more, a package has something called a Statement of Identity on it,” he explained. “A lot of these products have labels that tell you what is not in the package. For instance, it says ‘vegan shrimp.’ Well, it's a vegan product that does not contain shrimp. And that is not how a Statement of Identity works. It has to tell you what is in the product. And those labels currently do not do that.”
Gibbons said that along with the dairy, beef and poultry industry, NFI is working to get a federal labeling fix.
“We have seen time and time again where the Food and Drug Administration does not take action on a labeling issue and then it becomes mainstream,” Gibbons said, using “almond milk” as an example. “Obviously, almonds don’t produce milk but they’re right next to cow’s milk on the shelf and labeled as milk. We want to get ahead of this now and we are talking to the FDA and folks on Capitol Hill to let them know that this is a problem that has to be fixed through an active regulatory effort.”
Ironically, fake seafood makers brutally bash the seafood industry in their promotions as being unsustainable and cruel and urge customers to “leave fish off their plates for good.”
On a related note: NFI has created a website to answer questions about seafood safety and the coronavirus at https://seafoodsafetycovid19.wordpress.com/.
Fishing updates – The Pacific halibut fishery got underway on March 14. A fleet of nearly 2,000 Alaska longliners will share a 17 million-pound catch during the eight-month fishery. It was set to be a bumpy start in the face of jittery markets and transportation snags. No ferries and limited air freight meant no way to move the fish in many Southeast Alaska ports. A major processor there was not buying any halibut until April.
Sablefish (black cod) also opened March 14. That market remains poor with a backlog of small fish in freezers.
For the second year, Sitka Sound’s roe herring fishery is not likely to occur this month due to small fish and no markets. Fishery managers had anticipated a harvest of 25,824 tons (nearly 57 million pounds), double from 2019.
Just over 10,000 tons of herring spawn on kelp can be taken from pound fisheries near Craig and Klawok. Herring pounds contain from 900 to 9,000 blades of kelp to catch the herring spawn.
Alaska’s largest roe herring fishery at Togiak in Bristol Bay has a huge quota at nearly 39,000 tons (over 85 million pounds). That fishery typically opens in April but many fishermen are opting out due to low herring prices of under $100 per ton.
The winter troll fishery for chinook salmon closed in all waters of Southeast Alaska on March 15.
Boats are targeting black rockfish throughout the Gulf and along the Aleutians.
Lingcod also is open in Southeast, and some areas are still open for golden king crab and Tanner crab.
A Tanner fishery opened in Prince William Sound on March 2 and the Kodiak fishery is still going slow in one open region.
The snow crab fishery in the Bering Sea has yielded about 70 percent of its 34 million pound catch quota.
A red king crab fishery for 13,608 pounds opened at Norton Sound on Feb. 29 but no one showed up due to no buyers. Many stakeholders fear the stock is declining and opted not to drop pots (through the ice) for the winter fishery.
Fishing for pollock, cod, mackerel, perch, flounders and many other whitefish continues in regions of the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea.
Fishing fellows - The call is out for young Alaska fishermen who want hands-on training in management, advocacy, research, marketing, conservation, business and more.
The Young Fishing Fellows Program, now in its fourth year, is an initiative of the Alaska Marine Conservation Council. This year it includes six mentor groups: the Copper River / Prince William Sound Marketing Association, Kachemak Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, Homer Charter Association, Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, North Pacific Fisheries Association and the Alaska Fishermen’s Network.The fellowships, which begin in the fall, are open to fishermen 35 and under who are paid $16 to $26 an hour, depending on experience. The hours are flexible by design, said Jamie O’Connor, AMCC working waterfront director.
“It usually ends up being about 10 hours a week for three to five months. There’s a lot of flexibility so people can work around their winter schedules and of course, work around fishing seasons,” she said.
O’Connor, who fishes at Bristol Bay, was part of the first cohort in 2017 and it resulted in her job at AMCC.
“One of the most beneficial aspects of this fellowship is access to the people who can open doors and show our young fishermen the work that’s being done on behalf of our oceans and our fishermen and our communities she said.”
Apply by May 4 to the Young Fishing Fellows Program at www.akyoungfishermen.org/.
Questions? Contact O’Connor at email@example.com.
Fish art contest update - The deadline for entries to the State-Fish Art Contest is March 31. The contest is open to kids from kindergarten through grade 12 and can include any Alaska fish.
For a new Alaska Fish Heritage category added this year, chinook salmon should be the star.
“Here in Alaska, the chinook is our state fish. That’s something a lot of people don’t even know,” said Bobbie Jo Skibo, U.S. Forest Service regional partnership coordinator in Alaska, host of the state art competition.
Young artists also can enter an international competition called the Fish Migration Award.
Find entry forms at www.wildlifeforever.org.
COVID cancellations – The North Pacific Fishery Management Council meeting on March 30-April 7 in Anchorage has been canceled following the announcement of Alaska’s first confirmed case of the coronavirus.
The 41st ComFish Alaska trade show at Kodiak set for March 26-28 has been rescheduled until Sept. 17-19.
The fourth Kodiak Area Marine Science Symposium scheduled for April 21-24, sponsored by Alaska Sea Grant and the University of Alaska/Fairbanks, has been canceled until next year.