Story last updated at 5/22/2013 - 2:04 pm
National Maritime Day on May 22 is a holiday created by Congress in 1933 to honor America's sea-going industry. It marks the day when the steamship Savannah set sail from Georgia on the first ever transoceanic voyage under steam power.
As celebrations are underway, another maritime benchmark will be set as the first full container of 18 tons of fresh salmon from Chile is offloaded from a cargo ship in California after an iceless month at sea.
How can that be? By using fuel cell technology in a new way.
A fuel cell is an electrochemical energy conversion device that converts hydrogen and oxygen into water, and in the process, it produces electricity.
"We use that capability and take out the oxygen from a palletized, plastic wrapped container of fish to less than 200 parts per million. So we basically cause the fish to go dormant and extend their natural shelf life," said Mark Barnekow, CEO of California-based Global Fresh Foods. "It all gets done at the processing plant before it even gets loaded on the truck."
More than 30 shipments of fresh Chilean farmed salmon, as well as tilapia and barramundi from Asian countries, have been delivered so far to the East Coast of the U.S., to Japan and will soon set sail for Europe. The company plans to expand to shipping other seafood species as well.
"Throughout each shipment our fuel cell wakes up every 10 minutes and reads the atmosphere. If it detects the oxygen levels have risen, it actually scavenges it to keep the level low," Barnekow said of GFF's patented SAF-D system.
The technology also fits with GFF's "green" shipping philosophy.
"As everyone recognizes, a lot of the seafood from around the world comes by air from long distances. This technology allows us to instead use cleaner ocean shipping and reduce the CO2 emissions," he said, adding that GFF also uses recyclable cardboard boxes for its fresh products instead of Styrofoam.
The first Chilean salmon shipment to the West Coast shows that the seafood industry now has technology comparable to that of the meat industry, where the supply chain can be 40-50 days long. Barnekow said the more remote the region, the better.
"Every time you freeze and defrost a fish you lose 25 percent to 35 percent of its value. Our technology allows you to maintain freshness so you can maintain your price and your profits at a higher level," he said, adding that Alaska and the Pacific Northwest are "a great launching point" for shipping a variety of fresh species to Japan and throughout Asia.
More than 85 percent of Alaska's salmon goes to markets in frozen forms.
Bristol Bay and the USA - The dollars generated by the world's most valuable sockeye salmon fishery at Bristol Bay circulate well beyond Alaska. That is shown in a new report by economists at the University of Alaska/Institute of Social and Economic Research who tracked the national multiplier effects as the fish makes its way through downstream industries, such as transportation and retail.
"Although fishing and processing take place in Alaska, because most of the total economic impacts of the Bristol Bay salmon industry occur outside Alaska, previous studies, which focused only on impacts (that) occur in Alaska greatly understated its national economic importance," the Economics of the Bristol Bay Salmon Fishery report states in its Executive Summary.
The fish bucks totaled $1.5 billion in outputs or sales across the U.S., based on 2010 figures, and the values have increased every year. It concludes that for every dollar of direct output value created in Bristol Bay fishing and processing, more than two additional dollars of output value are created in other industries, as payments from the fishery ripple through the economy. "These payments create almost three jobs for every direct job in Bristol Bay fishing and processing," the summary says.
Salmon exports from Bristol Bay were valued at $250 million, 6 percent of the total value of all U.S. seafood exports.
Nearly four-fifths of the economic impacts and contributions occur outside the state; with one-third occurring in Washington.
Nearly two-thirds of the people working in Bristol Bay are from other states.
The major processors all are based in Washington; most of the fishing and processing supplies and services are purchased there.
There are 1,860 drift gillnet permits and 1,000 set net permits operating in Bristol Bay; one-third of the permit holders are from West Coast states. The breakdown is 1,474 are Alaska residents, 769 are from Washington; 136 from Oregon, 143 from California and 255 permit holders live in other states and countries. Find a link to the report at www.alaskafishradio.com
Bionic crab shells! - The shells of crabs, shrimp, lobsters and other crustaceans are being turned into bio-plastics for food packaging. The shells contain a compound called chitin, also found in insects and fungi, and it is one of the most abundant biodegradable materials in the world.
With financial backing from their government, scientists at the Norwegian Institute of Food, Fisheries and Aquaculture Research have been turning chitin into so called "active" packaging aimed at reducing plastics made from petro-chemicals. The products can range from hard bio-plastics to thin films that cover food products. The food sector alone, including beverages, accounts for nearly two-thirds of global packaging from non-biodegradable plastics.
Chitin has a rich research history for use in agriculture, medicine and other fields. It can be used as a seed treatment, and when added to soil, works as a bio-pesticide. It increases blooms in plants, and extends the life of cut flowers and Christmas trees. The U.S. Forest Service has conducted research on chitin to control pathogens in pine trees, and increase resin pitch flow, which resists pine beetle infestation.
Chitin can also be used in water filtration, as it causes fine sediment particles to bind together. Tests show that chitin combined with sand filtration removes up to 99 percent of turbidity in water.
Chitin's properties also cause blood to clot rapidly, and it is used in bandages by the U.S. and the UK military.
Scientists have recently developed a chitin-based polyurethane coating that is 'self-healing.' When it is added to traditional coatings to protect paint on cars, for example, the chitin reacts chemically to ultra violet light and smooths away scratches in less than one hour.
Chitin also appears to limit fat absorption, which would make it useful for weight loss - but more research needs to be done on that. Estimates say more than 25 billion tons of chitin from seafood is disposed of each year.