Cruise the baby food aisles of any American supermarket and you’ll see jars of beef, chicken, lamb, eggs - every kind of protein except fish. That could soon change if an initiative by Alaska food scientists and the seafood industry is successful.
Fueled by $443,000 in federal funding from the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, a project is underway at the University of Alaska Fisheries Industrial Technology Center in Kodiak to create baby food made from salmon. AFDF is an industry based nonprofit created in 1978 to help provide a bridge between research and the marketplace.
"Starting last year we began developing two prototype products - a pate’ form for infants and a chunk-style food for toddlers made from pink and/or sockeye salmon, with or without fish oil additives. We may also use ground up salmon bone as a source for organic calcium," said FITC director Scott Smiley. Another project will focus on using salmon roe as a baby food ingredient.
Smiley said it will be two or three years before the salmon products are ready to hand off to baby food manufacturers. But that is something that is beyond the realm of science. "We can tell seafood processors what they need to do to make a product that is 100 percent pure salmon and meets specific nutritional standards. It’s up to them to sell the idea to baby food manufacturers and to market researchers to try and make it fly in the market place," Smiley said.
Smiley displayed jars of seafood baby food from Japan adorned with labels showing colorful pictures of flounder and cod. He said infant formulas throughout Asia also contain fish oils to meet minimum requirements for omega 3 fatty acid levels. With all the health positives surrounding fish, why is the same nutrition not available to American babies?
"We can’t get it past the gate-keepers. Parents just seem to have a bias against fish," was the response 10 years ago by Gerber spokesperson Nancy Lindner. That attitude holds true today. "At this time, Gerber does not manufacture a baby food containing fish. The selection of products we offer is determined in large part by the preferences of parents," was the reply to a query at Gerber’s consumer questions line. (Other companies did not respond.)
One baby food company expressed concern over the "odor" of processing fish at their manufacturing plants, said AFDF director Bob Pawlowski. To that end, AFDF has invited food scientists from major baby food makers to visit processing plants next month in Kodiak and one other Alaska community. "We want to show them that we have the most healthful, all-natural salmon in the world with no bio-accumulation issues of contaminants or impurities. We will try and convince them that we can produce it and they can distribute it," Pawlowski said. He and Smiley have already scheduled follow-up meetings in August with research and development staff at baby food companies headquartered in Urbana, Ill.
Both men are optimistic that salmon baby food is an idea whose time has come. "Moms recognize it as healthful, low-fat, loaded with omega 3s, it comes from pure Alaska waters ... there is a whole lot going for fish," Smiley said. "It just depends on how willing people are to make that vision translate into new products on the supermarket shelves."
Mariners have long been required to take steps to test anyone involved in a serious accident or incident for evidence of drug and alcohol use. Many might be caught off guard by new U.S. Coast Guard rules that go into effect on June 20 setting specific time limits for conducting the tests and mandating that approved testing equipment be carried on board.
The new requirements say that alcohol testing must follow a serious marine incident (SMI) within two hours, and no later than eight hours, following the incident. Drug testing must be done within 32 hour of an SMI.
An SMI includes such things as a death, an injury that requires treatment beyond first aid, property damage in excess of $100,000, loss of a vessel, or various pollution incidents.
Lt. Randy Waddington said the Coast Guard recognizes that sometimes testing can’t be done within the required time frame, such as when "people are being plucked out of the ocean."
"Enforcement will be done on a case-by-case basis," Waddington said. Regardless, mariners must have approved testing devices on board by June 20 and know how to use them. The only exception is for vessels operating within two hours of a location where testing can be done, such as a police station or hospital.
Waddington was not sure if the devices will be available from outlets other than the Internet. A list of approved testing equipment, which sell for $100-$150, is available from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Failure to comply with the new chemical testing regulations can result in fines of $27,500 for each violation. For more information, contact Lt. Waddington at the Marine Safety Office in Juneau at (907) 463-2444.
New sea bird guides
An ongoing collaboration between the Juneau-based Marine Conservation Alliance and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has produced a new series of colorful placards showing 51 bird species that might be encountered on the fishing grounds. The guides contain life-size outlines of the birds’ beaks so they can easily be identified by fishermen or onboard observers.
The new series follows on a release last year of guides produced in both English and Russian that identify three types of endangered short-tailed albatross. Accidentally catching just four of those in a two-year period can have serious ramifications, potentially closing down a fishery.
"Happily, we have not gotten close to those limits. We have not taken a short-tailed albatross since 1998," said Thorn Smith, director of the North Pacific Longline Association and an MCA board member.
Alaska’s longline fleet already uses avoidance measures to keep sea birds away from their fishing gear. "The streamer lines we deploy over our baited hooks while we’re setting them out are extremely effective and we have reduced our incidental take of birds eightfold," Smith said, adding that the bird guides have been very popular. "We’ve got some real birdwatching fishermen out there. It tends to raise their consciousness and has been a very successful series."
The collaboration also has provided guides to identify and avoid the world’s most endangered whales - right whales. "The series represents a remarkable cooperative effort by industry, government and environmentalists," said MCA director Dave Benton.