The 40 day Lenten season, which this year runs from March 1 to April 16, always begins on Ash Wednesday, so called from the ritual of placing ashes from burned palm branches on the forehead as a sign of repentance.
The ashes symbolize the religious statement "remember that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shall return." It is a custom that has been universal since 1091.
Lent allows time for the faithful to prepare spiritually for Easter Sunday when, according to Christian belief, Christ returned from the dead. In many countries, the day before Lent - called Mardi Gras or Shrove Tuesday - has become a last fling before the start of the long Lenten season. For centuries, it was customary to not eat meat during Lent, which is why some people call the festival carnival, Latin for farewell to meat.
While nearly all seafood enjoys a surge of interest during Lent, the most traditional items served are "whitefish," such as cod, pollock, and flounders.
But no matter what is being served, Lent always means good news for Alaska, which provides more than half of our entire nation's seafood - and more than all other U.S. states combined.
Last Sunday marked the start of Alaska's halibut fishery and fresh fish was on its way to eager buyers by Monday night. Managers selected the March 5 start date so the fish could be on supermarket shelves early in the week; it also coincides with the beginning of Lent.
"We've had some years with weird opening dateswhen the fish would get to market on the weekends.
That makes it kind of hard to get the ball rolling," said Matt Moir, general manager of Alaska Pacific Seafood in Kodiak.
As usual, there is "lots of anticipation and excitement" at the start of the Pacific halibut fishery, Moir said, from harvesters to high-end restaurants. But where the market starts and how long it lasts is always the big question, he added.
"In the opening game there are always some winners and losers, depending on when the fish gets there. In general, folks are enthusiastic, but there is also some caution to see where the market stabilizes over seven to 10 days," Moir said.
Dock prices to fishermen last year started off at well over $3 a pound in most Alaska ports and, seldom dipped below that for the duration of the eight month season.
In fact, the average halibut price for the 2005 season was $3.05 per pound, according to Tracy Buck, permit operations manager at the Restricted Access Management division of NOAA Fisheries in Juneau.
Harvesters lucky enough to hold quota shares of the Alaska halibut resource
can haul in 55 million pounds of the prized flatfish this year, down slightly from the 2005 fishery.
Alaska's sablefish fishery also got underway on March 5, with a catch quota of nearly 36 million pounds. (Average dock price last year for sablefish was $2.10 per pound).
A chance discovery by farmed salmon hatchery workers has spawned a line of skin care products that help cure disorders like eczema and also keeps skin younger looking.
According to Intrafish, scientists at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology became curious after it was noticed that hatchery workers who spent long hours handling salmon fry in cold seawater had softer, smoother hands. Normally, hands held repeatedly in cold water become red, dry and cracked.
The researchers discovered the skin softening component came from the enzyme zonase, which is found in the hatching fluid of the fish eggs.
The enzyme's task is to digest the protein structure of the tough egg shells without harming the tiny, emerging fish. The scientists hailed this dual ability as the secret behind the beneficial properties zonase provides to human skin.
In clinical trials at Bergen University the enzyme was shown to help dead skin flake off, and stimulate the growth of healthy, new skin cells. It also proved helpful in healing wounds.
The patented product is now being sold under the international Meridian Beauty label by a company based in Malta, Britain and Russia.
It advertises a line of zonase based creams for Skin Repair, Anti Aging, and hand and body lotions. (www.meridianinternational.net ).
Oddly, although the web site invites visitors to "join online and reap your rewards instantly," the products cannot be purchased except by membership based on referral by specific (unnamed) companies.
Welch, who lives in Kodiak, has written about Alaska's seafood industry since 1988.