Candied salmon ice cream. poke snack kits, salmon bisque baby food, fish skin tote bags and pet oils …
Those are among the more than 20 new items to be revealed this week at the industry’s most popular annual seafood soiree, the Alaska Symphony of Seafood, where the public is invited to taste and vote on their favorites.
Now in its 24th year, the event attracts commercially ready entries from major companies to small mom and pops who frequently take home the top prizes. Bambino’s Baby Food of Anchorage, for example, won grand prize for its Hali Halibut last winter and is entered again this go around.
The goal of the Symphony is to encourage development of new Alaska seafood products and broaden markets. It gets its steam from a “rising tide floats all boats” push by the forward-thinking, Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, host of the event since 1993.
“How can you beat ice cream?” said AFDF executive director Julie Decker, referring to an entry by retail store Coppa of Juneau, known for using herring roe wasabi and black cod in ice cream.
Entries show even more of a foreign flare this year with Jjamppong, a Korean Seafood Noodle Soup by Orca Bay, and Triad Fisheries’ bottarga, a dried, shaved topping made from salmon roe.
The Symphony has grown beyond edibles and several years ago introduced a Beyond the Plate category to bolster more head-to-tail usage and reduce fish waste. Last year’s big winner was Quyung-lii Anti-Aging Skin Serum by ArxOtica of Bethel. Entries for this year include a salmon skin tote by the Salmon Sisters of Homer, a water clarifier derived from crab shells by Tidal Vision of Juneau, and salmon pet oils by Trident Seafoods.
All products will undergo a private judging in Seattle, where seafood lovers also will cast ballots for their favorites on Jan. 25. Winners will be announced at a Juneau Legislative Reception and public judging on Feb. 22. Top placers receive a trip to showcase their products at Boston’s Seafood Expo North America in March.
All hopes for a Bering Sea bairdi Tanner crab fishery in 2017 were dashed this month by a split vote of the Alaska Board of Fisheries.
Crab harvests are based on results of annual surveys and for Tanners, the numbers are driven by the abundance of female crabs. The survey indicated there were not enough females to risk even a reduced opener in a fishery that produced 20 million pounds last year.
Based on their pot pulls, the crabbers believe lots of Tanners are out there, but were missed by the trawl survey done jointly each summer by state and federal biologists.
“There’s something of a disconnect between the scientists and fishermen,” said Tyson Fick, spokesman for the trade group Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers. “We thought there were enough crab to warrant a small harvest of 4 million pounds, which would be about 4 percent of the mature male biomass. Others thought a more precautionary approach was warranted.”
It adds up to a $50 million loss to the crab fleet. An even bigger hit stems from the drop in the marketplace, where the Tanners were becoming wildly popular. Bairdi Tanners are double the size of their snow crab cousins, weighing 2 to 4 pounds. The crabbers and the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute have worked hard to build a Tanner brand when the fishery was reopened just three years ago.
“Red Lobster, Joe’s Crab Shack and Publix Markets — all these domestic customers really appreciated what they are getting. It’s going to be an uphill road when we come back into the market again,” Fick said.
Pink relief, possibly
Alaska’s 2016 pink salmon fishery was officially declared a failure last week by the U.S. Commerce Secretary, setting the stage for fishermen and other stakeholders in three regions to seek disaster assistance from the federal government.
The pink fishery last summer was the worst in more than 40 years. Harvesters from Kodiak, Prince William Sound and Lower Cook Inlet are eligible to apply for monetary assistance, if the money is appropriated by Congress.
The push for relief was spearheaded by Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, who pointed out that the pink salmon bust is felt far beyond the fishing nets.
“It trickles down to processors and their work force, transportation, and most businesses throughout the communities,” Stutes said.
The request for relief funds got the backing of Gov. Bill Walker in late September.
Kodiak’s pink salmon catch barely broke 3 million out of a projected 16 million fish. At Prince William Sound, a catch of 13 million was down by nearly two-thirds of what was expected. In Lower Cook Inlet, a pink take of just 97,000 fish was less than 13 percent of the forecast.
The pink disaster declaration won’t set a precedent. Alaska received nearly $8 million in federal money in 2012 due to low king salmon runs on the Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers and in the Cook Inlet region.
It will now be a waiting game as the disaster funds await a green light from Congress. Stutes said her office will be tracking the time frames and how people can apply for what will be monetary payouts.
“This is not going to be a blanket money grab for anybody that fished pinks,” she said. “If you’re in the disaster area and the large portion of your income was based on pink salmon, then I believe you will be eligible.”
Pink salmon is Alaska’s largest salmon fishery and harvests can top 200 million fish. It was one of nine salmon and crab fisheries declared as failures in Alaska, California and Washington, primarily for West Coast Tribal salmon fisheries.
Fish give back
American Seafoods company is again accepting applications for its Alaska community grant program. A total of $38,000 will be awarded to community projects addressing such issues as hunger, housing, safety, education, research, natural resources and cultural activities. Most of the awards range from $500 to $3,000 per organization.
Deadline to apply is Feb. 6. Grant recipients will be selected by a community advisory board on Feb. 15. Contact Kim Lynch at email@example.com or 206-256-2659.#
Laine Welch has been writing Fish Factor since 1991. The syndicated column runs in nearly 20 Alaska newspapers and websites, and in the U.K. Her daily “Fish Radio” program airs on 30 stations across Alaska and beyond. Laine lives in Kodiak. Visit her website at www.alaskafishradio.com.