by Laine Welch
Eleven new seafood products from seven companies are set to showcase their ideas at the upcoming Symphony of Seafood gala in Seattle and Anchorage.
In its 21 years, the event has introduced and promoted hundreds of new Alaska seafood items to the marketplace.
“Developing new products is really hard,” said Julie Decker, new executive director of event host Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation. (Decker replaces a retired Jim Browning). “It costs a lot of money, takes a lot of time and attention, and sometimes the products are wonderful and sometimes they are not. So this event really helps companies determine how the marketplace is going to receive their product.”
Entries come from major Alaska seafood companies, as well as small “mom and pops.” This year, they include beer-battered cod, a ready-to-eat grilled pollock fillet, all-natural Keta Salmon Jerky and Little Sammies in a blanket made with salmon franks.
On Feb. 5, an expert panel in Seattle will judge all of the products in three categories: retail, food service and smoked. Winners will be kept secret and announced after a tasting bash at the Anchorage Hilton on Feb. 13. All top entries, as well as a grand prize winner selected by voters, receive a trip and booth space at the International Boston Seafood Show in March.
Last year’s Grand Prize went to Zesty Grill Sockeye Salmon by Copper River Seafoods. The 2012 big winner was Kylee’s Alaska Salmon Bacon by Tustumena Smokehouse in Soldotna.
Small-boat fishermen will have a chance to drop dredges for Weathervane scallops this summer. Starting July 1, state waters of Yakutat, Prince William Sound, Shelikof Strait and Dutch Harbor will be open to any vessel that registers for the fishery before April 1.
Only four or five boats have targeted Alaska scallops since the fishery went to limited entry 15 years ago; that was after waves of East Coast boats boosted the number to more than 20.
The boats today are usually 70-80 feet, but 58-footers also have participated, said Wayne Donaldson, state regional shellfish manager at Kodiak. The total Alaska catch is usually half-a-million pounds of shucked meats.
“You need a boat that has enough horsepower to pull a scallop dredge along the bottom, and you need enough deck space to haul up the dredge and sort out the scallops,” Donaldson said. “So we will see how small the boats are that decide to jump into it.”
Donaldson added that, “Since it is all new, we encourage anybody who is thinking of getting into the scallop fishery to give us a call or stop by so we can go over how the regulations are structured.”
Seafood is, by far, Alaska’s top export, and a strong U.S. dollar means it will cost more for global customers to buy it.
“The dollar is really strengthening against a basket of other currencies because the U.S. economy is doing better than many other places,” said market expert John Sackton of Seafood.com. “So it makes imports of things like farmed shrimp, salmon or tilapia less expensive for the U.S. to buy, and makes exports from the U.S. more expensive in the host currency, whether it’s Yen or Euro, Canadian or Yuan or whatever.”
Each year between 60-70 percent of Alaska’s seafood is exported to other countries, and a strengthening dollar will make it slightly harder for Alaska to be competitive, Sackton predicted.
“But I would think of it more as a headwind,” he added, “rather than a change in direction.”
NOAA Sea Grant plans to award a total of $3 million to fund a national competition for marine aquaculture research projects. It is part of the “overall plan to support the development of environmentally and economically sustainable ocean, coastal or Great Lakes aquaculture,” according to the grant website.
Institutions of higher education, nonprofit and commercial organizations, state, local and Indian tribal governments and individuals are eligible. Topical priorities for the FY2014 include research to inform about pending regulatory decisions, informational outreach tools, social and/or economic research to understand aquaculture issues and impacts in a larger context.
Pre-proposals must be received via email to the National Sea Grant Office by 5 p.m. Eastern Time on Feb. 21, 2014. www.grants.gov
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