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PUBLISHED: 3:57 PM on Tuesday, September 26, 2006
Crab Broker owner takes buyers to the food source

Rob George has had a long love affair with king crab and he is sharing it in an unconventional way. George is co-owner of the Anchorage-based Crab Broker, Inc. which sells all kinds of crab from around the world. But his specialty is fresh cooked Alaska king crab.

"It's my baby," he said, adding that he was the first to begin brokering fresh cooked king crab clusters out of Dutch Harbor 14 years ago.

George wanted to create a closer working relationship with his customers, and to help them understand the complexities of getting Alaskan king crab to their restaurants or retail counters.

"I wanted to take them from boat to box - to show them all the different hoops we have to jump through to get the crab from the source to them in a timely manner," he explained.

What better way than to take them to the source? In July, George and his partner Eric Donaldson brought 42 buyers and chefs to Nome to participate in the Norton Sound king crab fishery.

"I was blown away by the ability to get seafood from that remote of a location. We get crab from all over the world, but the quality that comes out of Norton Sound is awesome. To take the crab from a small boat, into the cooking pot and to our restaurant the next day is amazing," said Dwight Colton, vice president of the upscale Fish Market Restaurants, an upscale chain of nine outlets in California and Arizona. The company also owns its own wholesale seafood supply company, Farallon Fisheries. "We think of ourselves as seafood people in the restaurant business versus restaurant people that sell seafood," Colton added.

As a first time visitor to Alaska, Colton said his first impression was the open friendliness of the people in Nome. "They opened their homes, offered us rides...that just doesn't happen in large metropolitan areas of California. People in Nome were always waving at me and it wasn't with their middle finger," he said with a laugh.

In Nome, the visit turned into a community event. The group netted salmon from the Pilgrim River and cooked it on willow branches on the beach. They also held an auction with items from the vistors' restaurants and stores and raised more than $2,000 for a local women's shelter.

The Crab Brokers are now busily organizing a tour to Dutch Harbor in late October, where buyers and chefs can again see "the real deal" as boats offload red king crab from the Bristol Bay fishery.

"We've got it line up so the group will actually go out on a big vessel and drop gear about six miles out of Dutch Harbor so they can see how it's done," said Rob George. "We're also hoping to get the ok from fishery managers to pull a pot that's loaded with king crab," he added.

George said the tours allow his company to meet with their clients, and it's the best way for them to gain a real appreciation of Alaska's seafood and its fisheries. The Fish Market's Dwight Colton had glowing words for Alaska seafood in general.

"My visit solidified what we already know about Alaska seafood. You can say hand over your heart that Alaska has superior seafood than any other state.

"The supplies of high quality seafood we get out of Alaska are unrivaled year in and year out. There is a lot of competition among states and I think Alaska has done a better job of marketing its seafood than anybody else," Colton said.

Colton, who has already booked his ticket for the Dutch Harbor trip, said he is really excited to be going to the source of the "Deadliest Catch," one of cable TV's most popular television shows. "If I get even half as much out of the Dutch Harbor trip as I did from Nome, I'll be thrilled," he said. You can follow along with Colton's Alaska king crab adventure at www.thefishmarket.com.

Seafood prices top other proteins

According to price index reports, consumer food prices topped four percent over the past year, while wholesale prices lodged nearly a nine percent increase.

And seafood is outpacing its other center of the plate competitors in terms of price increases at both the wholesale and retail levels.

Market analyst Ken Talley of Seafood Trends reports that retail seafood prices jumped a modest 4.5 percent over the past year, while wholesale seafood costs notched a hefty nine percent gain.

Fresh seafood led the way with a 6.2 increase in prices, while frozen fish and shellfish prices gained only 2.1 percent.

But the jump in prices has a downside when compared to competing proteins, and it could be reflected when people reach for their wallets.

Beef prices, for example, have dropped by about one percent, poultry prices are down by almost three percent and pork has registered a gain of less than one percent.

Talley said the Bureau of Labor reports strong increases in seafood trade overall, especially for imports.

On a related note: The latest report by the international Food and Agriculutre Organization (FAO) said in 1980, just nine percent of the fish consumed in the world came from aquaculture. Today that number has jumped to 43 percent, or more than 100 billion pounds valued at $63 billion. The FAO estimates an additional 88 billion pounds of fish will be required by 2030 just to maintain current levels of consumption, and that will be provided by farmed fish.

Brown seaweed busts belly fat

More research is showing that some kinds of seaweed can fight fat. Chemists in Japan have found that brown seaweed, used in many Asian soups and salads, contains a compound that appears to promote weight loss by reducing the accumulation of fat.

Welch, who lives in Kodiak, has written about Alaska's seafood industry since 1988.


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