FISH FACTOR: Debut of new seafood products planned at annual gala


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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 market place is going to receive their product.”

Entries always come from major Alaska seafood companies to small “mom and pops.” This year they 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 of 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 — receive a trip and booth space at the International Boston Seafood Show in March.

Last year’s Grand Prize went to Zesty Grill Sockeye Salmon by Copper River Seafoods; the 2012 big winner was Kylee’s Alaska Salmon Bacon by Tustumena Smokehouse in Soldotna.

New life for old fishery

Small boat fishermen will have a chance to drop dredges 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 limited entry 15 years ago, after waves of East Coast boats boosted the number to more than 20. The boats today are usually 70 feet to 80 feet, but 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 horse power 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.”

Donaldson added: “Since it is all new we encourage anybody who is thinking of getting into the scallop fishery to give us a call or stop by so we can go over how the regulations are structured.”

USA Strong

Seafood is by far Alaska’s top export, and a strong U.S. dollar means it will cost more for global customers to buy it.

“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 Seafood.com. “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 to other countries, and a strengthening dollar will make it slightly harder for Alaska to be competitive, Sackton predicted.

“But I would think of it more as a headwind,” he added, “rather than a change in direction.”

Aqua Awards

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Sea Grant plans to award $3 million to fund a national competition for marine aquaculture research projects. It is part of the ‘overall plan to support the development of environmentally and economically sustainable ocean, coastal or Great Lakes aquaculture,’ according to the grant website.

Institutions of higher education, nonprofit and commercial organizations, state, local and tribal governments and individuals are eligible. Topical priorities for the fiscal year 2014 include research to inform about pending regulatory decisions, informational outreach tools, social and/or economic research to understand aquaculture issues and impacts in a larger context.

Pre-proposals must be received via email to the National Sea Grant Office by 5 p.m. eastern time on Feb. 21. For more information go to www.grants.gov.

Tune in to fish meetings

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council meets Feb. 3-10 at the Renaissance Hotel in Seattle. The meeting will be broadcast at npfmc.webex.com. The agenda will be continually updated with the associated documents. 

The state Board of Fisheries is meeting through Feb. 13 at the Egan Center in Anchorage. The agenda includes 236 proposals directed at Upper Cook Inlet finfish fisheries. Those meetings also are available as they happen on the web.

Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishfactor.com or contact msfish@alaska.com for information.

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