Story last updated at 6/24/2009 - 10:46 am
The U.S. is about to spend $50 million in stimulus money on fish food to help fish farmers hit by a 50 percent increase in feed prices last year. According to the Associated Press, the money could "provide algae to nourish clam and oyster larvae along the Pacific coast, fill the bellies of tilapia in Arizona and feed catfish, trout and game fish in the Midwest and South."
Supporters say the money will help preserve jobs in areas hard hit by the recession and lacking other industries.
No mention of where the farmed fish feed will come from - currently, most is generated from the catches of species like Peruvian anchovies or menhaden. Using ground up wild fish to feed farmed fish is a practice that is quickly falling out of favor.
Let's hope that the feed purchasers will "go green" and "buy American" by sourcing some of that fish food from Alaska!
Each year Alaska's fisheries produce an estimated 1.25 million metric tons of "industrial wastes" from fish processing operations across the state, much of which is turned into meals and oils for aquaculture operations.
"It's the largest volume in North America," said Dr. Peter Bechtel, a USDA research leader at the Univ. of Alaska/Fairbanks.
A 2008 study for the Anchorage-based Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation (AFDF) by Dr. Anthony 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 is not known how much is sold domestically. Assuming a 5 year average price, Alaskan produced fish meal could have reached a value up to $170 million. Bimbo said it is difficult to quantify Alaska fish oil and meal production, because fisheries are divided between state and federal jurisdictions, and there are different databases.
Ironically, Alaska spends $20 million each year on fish feed for its 35 salmon hatcheries - feed that comes from South America. At the same time, the tons of fish feed produced by Alaska seafood companies is sold to aquaculture operations in Asia.
Find the study "Alaska Seafood Byproducts: Potential Products, Markets and Competing Products" at www.afdf.org.
Lots going on besides salmon
Salmon dominates the news at this time of year (96 percent of all U.S. salmon landings come from Alaska), but many other fisheries also occur during the summer.
Alaska's first king crab fishery of the year kicked off this month in Norton Sound near Nome, Dungeness crab seasons started throughout Southeast Alaska and Kodiak; in July scallop fisheries begin from Yakutat to Dutch Harbor; and the golden king crab season starts in August along the Aleutians. Meanwhile, all summer long Alaska fishermen will continue targeting halibut, cod and other groundfish, giant geoduck clams, sablefish, and many more from the Panhandle to the Bering Sea.
How important are all these fisheries to Alaska? They provide nearly $6 billion worth of economic activity in the state, 78,000 direct and indirect jobs, and 80 percent of the manufacturing that goes on in Alaska is accountable to the seafood industry. The seafood industry provides more Alaska jobs than oil, gas and mining combined.
Find more Alaska fishing facts in a user-friendly report called 'The Seafood Industry in Alaska's Economy" by Northern Economics in Anchorage.
Selenium stomps mercury
More studies are showing that a naturally occurring mineral in marine fish called selenium is a major overlooked factor in the ongoing food safety debate over mercury and seafood. Selenium is an essential nutrient that is required for a healthy brain and hormone producing tissues. It also is credited with substantially reducing the risk of Alzheimer's disease, which stems from plaque build-up that destroys brain cells.
Selenium is present in deep-water fish at five to 20 times the concentration of mercury. And when the two chemicals bind, methyl mercury appears to be neutralized.
Research last year by Dr. Nicholas Ralston at the Univ. of North Dakota found that the most popular ocean fish eaten by Americans - including salmon, pollock, tuna and flounders - all contain much more selenium than mercury. Out of 1,100 foods that have been analyzed for selenium by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, ocean fish comprised 17 of the 25 best dietary selenium sources. Now Ralston's research has spawned a new approach to assessing the mercury risks in seafood.
A study released last week claims that current federal methods for formulating seafood consumption guidelines may not provide an accurate assessment of food safety.
"Since only mercury levels in fish are presently being assessed, evaluations of risk from ocean fish consumption are being overstated, and conversely, risks from eating fresh water fish from some locations may be much greater than is currently assumed," Ralston told Seafood.com. "Since selenium and mercury occur together in seafood but affect health outcomes in opposing directions, it is essential to look at the balance of these elements present in fish."
The study examines a new seafood safety guideline known as the Selenium-Health Benefit Value (Se-HBV) that predicts risks or benefits based on their relative mercury and selenium contents. Because it considers both the health benefits of selenium as well as the risks of methyl mercury, the Se-HBV index provides far more accurate food safety predictions than current criteria which are based on mercury alone.
The study was funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency.
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. Welch lives in Kodiak.