Story last updated at 2/18/2009 - 10:56 am
Here's a cost-cutting idea for the State to consider as it starts to trim the budget: Buy local.
Alaska spends $20 million on fish feed each year for its salmon hatcheries - feed that comes from South America. Meanwhile, Alaska seafood companies are producing more than 200,000 tons of fishmeal each year - for customers in Asia.
Alaska oversees and regulates 35 state and private sector hatcheries, which provide 30 percent of the statewide total salmon catch each year, and nearly 20 percent of its value.
"Using Alaskan produced hatchery feed would bring savings on two fronts; less shipping costs and higher growth rates. Plus, more jobs would be created, taxes would be collected, an industry supported, and a big green star," said Jim Browning, director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation in Anchorage.
Alaska's world class fisheries produce a lot of leftovers - fish heads, guts, skin, bones and other trimmings, called byproducts. Each year, roughly 1.25 million metric tons of "industrial wastes" are produced by fish processing operations across Alaska.
"It's the largest volume in North America," said Dr. Peter Bechtel, a U.S. Dept. of Agriculture research leader at the Univ. of Alaska/Fairbanks.
Alaska's fisheries could fuel another type of oil boom for Alaska, Bechtel believes.
"Salmon from cold, sea waters provide the biggest punch of the famous omega fatty acids, so important to our health," he said.
U.S. sales of omega fish oil supplements have topped $500 million and the market continues to grow. Omegas also are being added to all kinds of foods - from eggs and orange juice, to breads and baby foods.
Best estimates peg Alaska fish oil production at 10,000 tons per year. Note the value jumped from $4 million in 2000 to $30 million in 2007.
It is difficult to quantify Alaska fish oil and meal production, because the fisheries are divided between state and federal jurisdictions, and there are different databases, said a 2008 report called 'Alaska Seafood Byproducts: Potential Products, Markets and Competing Products" by Anthony Bimbo for AFDF.
The Dept. of Fish and Game Department database contains information on fishmeal and oil produced from pollock, cod, yellowfin sole and sockeye salmon. The Federal statistics group all sources of fishmeal and oil together. Bimbo estimates Alaska's average fishmeal production at 217,000 tons from 2000-2007; there is no data available on production of salmon meal, and it's not known how much is sold domestically.
When he crunched the numbers, Bimbo called the potential values of Alaska fishmeal and oil "a real eye opener." Assuming a 5 year average price for meal and oil from 2000 - 2007, Alaska could have produced somewhere between $80 million and $170 million of fishmeal and $7 - $22 million of fish oil.
Questions? Visit www.afdf.org.
First GM approval
It didn't make headlines but U.S. history was made last week when the Food and Drug Administration approved the first item made from genetically modified materials. It is a drug made from the milk of goats that have been altered to produce a protein that acts as a blood thinner.
GM creatures are not clones, but rather animals that have had their DNA changed to produce a desirable characteristic. The science is widely used in agriculture to produce higher-yielding or disease-resistant crops, but it is the first time that modified animals have been given the ok for human medical use or consumption.
Next to get the nod is likely to be salmon. Aqua Bounty Farms in eastern Canada has been waiting more than a decade to get U.S. approval for its modified Atlantic salmon. The fish grow twice as fast as normal salmon, thanks to added genes from cold water fish. The FDA said no labeling is required that tells consumers their food purchases are genetically altered.
Trident's Thai Chili Salmon Fillets, made from chums, took home the People's Choice at the Symphony of Seafood Feb. 10 in Seattle. All winners will be announced Feb. 19 at a "gala soiree" at the Captain Cook hotel in Anchorage.
The Alaska Fishing Industry Relief Mission (AFIRM) has donated nearly $2,000 to help get food to Yukon villages. More than 200 salmon permit holders live in Emmonak and Kotlik.
Laine Welch has been covering news of Alaska's seafood industry since 1988. Her weekly Fish Factor column appears in a dozen newspapers and web outlets. Her daily Fish Radio programs air on 27 stations around Alaska.