Turning seafood by-products into a resource
Wednesday,13 January,2010 09:46:51
The seafood industry in Alaska is ripe to start embracing some of the changes that are rapidly materializing in the rest of the world. I have been preparing an abstract on a workshop presentation that I am proposing to offer at the upcoming Western Alaska Interdisciplinary Science Conference in Unalaska on March 24-27th, and I got to thinking about marketing. Yes, marketing is everything when you are selling something, but also when you are trying to get rid of something as well. How can the Alaska seafood industry make the shift away from thinking of seafood “waste” as a “resource?”
This past summer I was involved in an endeavor called Alaska Bounty – a company I created to handle some of our waste stream generated at Naknek Family Fisheries. Because our small fish plant was not on the river system, and therefore it was not feasible to simply grind up the waste and dump it back into the river, we had to think up alternatives to the grind-and-dump scenario that is the industry norm in the Bristol Bay region. We were told that the Bristol Bay Borough fish grinder hadn’t been lawfully permitted by EPA since 1994, and therefore, we were legally precluded from using the grinder by DEC as our approved disposal site.
Therefore, I was forced to come up with an alternative solution, or risk having our small, family-owned seasonal business shut down. The solution that I presented at the Alaska Marketplace was to utilize the resource in compost, and also to produce a liquid fish fertilizer. We employed our plant workers to think about the resource differently. This is because we couldn’t just think of the leftovers as “stinky fish guts” or some other such negative label, because this was another resource that we had to take care of. In order to make the best possible fertilizer, we needed to process the material fresh, not after it had been sitting around.
A big part of the re-thinking came in the form of reframing or rephrasing. I discouraged the term “guts” and “waste,” instead encouraging use of the term “protein” or “material.” Although some might argue that this makes no difference, I beg to argue that it does. In many parts of Asia, they are actively involved in the processing and reprocessing of parts of fish that we in the Western worlds would not think twice about. Take fish sauce, for example. It is essentially fermented fish parts, liquefied and stabilized. However, one cannot think of certain ethnic cuisines, such as Thai food, without that particular flavor.
Underutilized seafood materials are currently finding uses in agriculture, food sciences, biomedicine, pet food, fish farming, and cosmetics. Some other little-used parts are being bought and sold as delicacies in the trendy restaurant and exotic food markets. Mainstream outlets, such as the Travel Channel’s show “Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre Foods” has brought strange and exotic delicacies to the living rooms of people that may have never considered eating such things as grasshoppers, worms, snakes, bird’s nest soup, or live octopus. In fact, this summer, we provided 100 fish heads to a chef in Seattle for the annual Burning Beast event. The fish heads were a big hit and we had numerous bloggers writing about the delicate flavor of something most Bristol Bay natives have enjoyed for centuries as a way to commemorate the beginning of the salmon season.
One hundred percent seafood utilization can be a tremendous marketing tool as well. Here is what one of our company’s customers writes on their website about where they source their salmon:
“Our fish is currently a part of a local venture to compost fish carcasses, rather than throwing them away. This reduces pollution [sic] in Bristol Bay, and instead goes to growing food. Read more about it on our site or at the company, Alaska Bounty’s website.”
Whether we like how these things smell or look, we all here in coastal Alaska need to consider the intrinsic qualities of the materials that the seafood industry currently considers “waste.” The only waste is that what we make of it.
If you would like more information on how to compost using seafood carcasses or other seafood proteins, please contact me at (907) 842-8323 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I can help direct you to the best scientific research on the topic, and help to provide resources on doing it safely – including bear fence installation and Alaska statutes on the subject.
What are some other methods or tactics for utilizing seafood byproducts? Comment and share.
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Return to self-sufficiency – a blast from the past?
Monday,11 January,2010 08:29:51
I was reading an interesting book last night entitled “The Encyclopedia of Country Living.” It had all kinds of practical information on living simply, country style. There were sections in there on how to keep your dairy products cool with no refrigeration and other “carbon-friendly” and time-honored tidbits of information.
The book got me thinking about some of the more ancient and proven methods of seafood preservation – salting, drying, pickling or fermenting, and smoking fish. These methods have been practiced for thousands of years and are still practiced today. Some of my favorite salmon preservation techniques hale from diverse locales around the world – Scotland, Norway, Alaska. “Salt fish,” also known as “suulunaqs” in Yup’ik, is a carbon-free preservation technique that allows fish to be stored in salt throughout the winter and used as needed. This technique also honors the Alaska Native traditional value of minimizing waste of the resource, as it is often made with the bellies of the salmon. The salted salmon bellies, once sufficiently desalinated, make the best pickled fish.
My grandmother, Violet Willson, puts up over ten buckets of salted salmon, and is known throughout the region for her famous pickled fish. It is the best that I’ve ever tasted. Rather than hoard her knowledge, she believes in passing these traditions on and sharing what she knows. Much of what she has learned about salmon she has taught herself, or learned from books or through her elders. Her fearlessness and tenacity have enabled her to develop her salmon recipes over the years to the point that her preparations are highly coveted.
An interesting thing about salt fish is that it is also a traditional Hawaiian dish, often served at weddings and graduation ceremonies as Lomi Lomi Salmon. The desalinated fish is cut up in very small pieces and served with tomatoes and onions. I thought it was interesting that Native Hawaiians should have a dish that contains in ingredient that wasn’t indigenous to the region. So, I asked a Hawaiian friend of mine how the dish became popular. He told me the story about how, in ancient times, voyagers from Hawaii and Alaska had trade routes where they traded salted salmon. This was during the time when Hawaii still had kings and queens. The fact that this dish is still popular in Hawaii is amazing to me.
Another popular dish around the world is smoked salmon. The varieties are enough to boggle the mind, and it seems that each region claims to make the best smoked salmon. There are Scottish, German, Norwegian, Swedish, Canadian (Nova), and Pacific Northwest and Alaskan version of smoked salmon. All smoked salmon varieties are based on the basic principles of salting and adding smoke. Some, such as the Pacific Northwest and Alaskan varieties incorporate a drying step in their process. The lox, or cured and smoked variety often has only a hint of smoke flavor, while Gravlax is completely devoid of any smoke, but is still a salt cured style salmon.
The Alaskan and Pacific Northwest version of smoked salmon is probably the most common here in Bristol Bay, and some people simply refer to it as “smoked fish,” or the term “squaw candy.” I don’t condone use of the latter term, as it is often perceived as being derogatory to Natives, particularly Native women. Some big companies, such as Port Chatham (now owned by Trident) have called this particular style “strips” or “hard smoked.”
Whatever your preference for styles or flavors, salmon were effectively preserved using these “old ways” for millennia before the advent of modern refrigeration. With so much attention on global warming, Peak Oil (or Peak Everything), and the emphasis on reducing our carbon footprint on this planet, perhaps it is time that salmon producing peoples take the time to pass on these traditional food preservation techniques. They are not only practical, but they can be delicious alternatives to frozen salmon.
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