Is that glass in your canned salmon? No, but Kodiak scientists want it anyway

welchlanieLR.jpg If you’ve ever opened a can of salmon and found what appears to be a small piece of glass, it’s most likely a substance called struvite.

And if you do find some, scientists want it.

fishfactor.jpg Researchers at the Fish Tech Center in Kodiak are putting out a call for struvite samples so they can find ways to reduce its occurrence in canned salmon, tuna and other seafoods.

Struvite is a naturally occurring mineral identified as magnesium ammonium phosphate, which forms into crystals under certain conditions. According to a bulletin from the Fisheries Research Board of Canada, the crystals -- which range in size from a grain of sand to a half-inch -- are colorless, transparent, tasteless and not harmful if swallowed.

In fact, the chemical substances in the crystals are necessary in one form or another for normal health. They are always present in the bodies of fishes and animals, and the same substance has been found in humans in the tartar film on teeth and elsewhere.

According to Kermit Reppond, a research chemist with the National Marine Fisheries Service in Kodiak, the Fish Tech study has two important components: To improve the procedure used to test canned salmon for the presence of struvite and to evaluate means of reducing its appearance in cans.

"Currently, the detection process is very laborious, and we want to find ways to speed up the process," Reppond said.

In August, researchers will add struvite to salmon before it is canned and then test for the substance at a later date.

"We want to document the efficiency of the struvite recovery and improve the test for detection," Reppond explained.

But getting enough struvite to conduct the tests has been a challenge. Reppond said scientists have not been able to create the compound in a lab setting.

"We can’t make it form the crystals. If we can seed the crystals in a can, more will grow. We can then see what techniques we can use to reduce the incidence," he explained.

Reppond said the research, which is being done in conjunction with Cargill Inc., is important for the seafood industry.

"If we can eliminate the problem of struvite, we can remove the potential for bad publicity when people make the wrong conclusion that canned seafood may contain glass," he said. But first, they need sufficient amounts of struvite.

Anyone finding samples, or any saved from past cans, is asked to send them to Kermit Reppond at FITC, 118 Marine Way, Kodiak, AK 99615. Questions? Call him at 907-486-1533.

Roe value is surprise

The first Alaska Salmon Price Report debuted a few months ago, and the value of salmon roe was cause for surprise and several questions. The ASPR was created by legislation that was passed last year, championed primarily by the United Salmon of Alaska group.

Instead of focusing solely on canned salmon, the new report, which is compiled by the state Department of Revenue, provides updates of wholesale prices three times a year for all product forms -- frozen, canned, fillets, and so forth -- for all salmon species across the state.

The report revealed a statewide wholesale value of $43.5 million for chum roe last year, of which more than 90 percent came from Southeast Alaska. The report lists an average chum roe wholesale price of $13.82 per pound. In contrast, the price for chum meat was around 25 cents a pound to fishermen.

According to the Alaska Fisherman’s Journal, the roe’s value raised questions about whether it was being taxed to the extent that it could. Alaska statutes limit the revenue department’s ability to tax roe as a separate category.

"The department has tried for years to get the Legislature’s attention and deal with roe separately. We would like to see the roe separately accounted for. We think a lot of the value of the roe is being left on the table," Carl Meyer told the AFJ.

Meanwhile, market watcher Bill Atkinson reported that first deliveries to Japan of roe from Copper River reds fetched a wholesale price of about $18.18 per pound. By early June, the price had dropped to $15.53-$15.91 per pound.

Eco-label makes gains

Alaska salmon is gaining popularity among more environmentally aware consumers and companies, and that’s resulting in increased sales. Last September, Alaska salmon was the first U.S. fishery to be certified under the Marine Stewardship Council’s standard for sustainable and well-managed fisheries.

The eco-label offers consumers an easy way to identify seafoods that are harvested in ways that do not lead to overfishing or destruction of the marine ecosystem.

That new label resulted in the cruise ship line Lindblad Expeditions deciding to serve wild Alaska salmon on its 70 passenger ships. Lindblad Expeditions offers cuisine emphasizing regional foods, and starting this month, it will feature for the first time seafood choices bearing the MSC eco-label.

"We take people out to see the natural world and our message is to appreciate it and conserve it for future generations," said Tom O’Brien, director of environmental affairs for Lindblad Expeditions, which takes travelers to some of the world’s most remote locations.

"This gives us an opportunity to get our audience thinking about where the fish on their plates come from," he said.

And back on land, Whole Foods Market has become the first U.S. retailer to carry Alaska salmon bearing the MSC eco-label.

"Whole Foods actively supports initiatives that allow marine life to rebuild and thrive as we constantly look to provide our customers with seafood from well-managed sources," said Steve Parkes, national seafood director for Whole Foods Market.

He added: "The MSC program gives our customers the buying power to influence the management of fisheries as well as the confidence that purchasing MSC label-bearing products will not contribute to overfishing or the harming of marine ecosystems." Starting in July, Whole Foods will begin a month-long promotion called "Fish for Our Future" in all of its 125 stores nationwide.

The Marine Stewardship Council was established in 1996 by the World Wildlife Fund and Unilever. Its eco-labeling program uses consumer purchasing power as an incentive for improving fishery management practices.

The MSC became independent in 1999, and today has four certified fisheries in the program -- Alaska Salmon, Western Australia Rock Lobster, Thames Herring and New Zealand Hoki. More than two dozen fisheries, including Alaska pollock, are at some point in the certification process.

Kodiak-based free-lance writer Laine Welch can be reached via e-mail at ([email protected]).

07/01/2001 - 8:00pm