Southeast processors look to use fish waste

Posted: Thursday, February 06, 2003

JUNEAU (AP) -- Southeast fish processors are smelling opportunity in a byproduct that traditionally has caused people to turn up their noses -- decomposing fish carcasses.

The Juneau Economic Development Council is working with state officials, the fishing industry, and the Southeast Conference on a scoping project to determine ways to fully use salmon carcasses, the leftovers after processors remove fillets or steaks.

Alaska salmon processors are allowed to dump fish waste, ground into pieces smaller than half an inch, into up to one acre of the ocean. Salmon processors often exceed the limits and are subject to fines from the EPA.

Kake Foods, a wholly owned subsidiary of Kake Tribal Corp., decided to create organic fertilizer from fish waste last year when its officials noticed abundant plant growth where fishermen used to dump fish waste near Wrangell, said Duff Mitchell, chief operating operator of Kake Tribal Corp.

''Old-timers used to just dump fish out the road in Wrangell,'' Mitchell said. ''It smelled, but years later they were like, 'Whoa, look at these raspberries.'''

Miller's company is working with the other organizations to find ways to make money off carcasses.

''There's going to be an increasing need for animal protein in the world in the future,'' he said. ''If you look at a fish, fillets account for 45 percent of the fish, and byproducts are the rest of it. That's good protein -- it's something that has a use.''

The project will look at other uses such as the production of fish meal and salmon oil, a high-protein liquid product. However, few companies can risk losing money on innovative processing techniques.

''There just isn't the fat in this industry,'' said Earl Hubbard, a Trident Seafoods vice president.

Trident operated a floating fishmeal plant near Ketchikan in 2000.

''It wasn't economical,'' Hubbard said.

Building a permanent fishmeal plant in the region also is unfeasible, he said. A plant could handle larger amounts of waste but could not make a profit operating fewer than three months out of the year, during Alaska's wild-salmon runs.

Round Gold, a new company based in Seattle, bought a hydrolysate barge in May 2002. The barge can transform fish carcasses into hydrolysate, a liquid protein that can be used in aquaculture feed, livestock feed, pet food and fertilizer.

However, buyers have to be found, said Sandro Lane, Round Gold chief executive officer.

''There is no existing ongoing full-scale market for fish hydrolysate,'' said Lane. ''It's new ... these are the markets we're investigating, but they're already buying other forms of protein. You need to go there with your product and show them it's better.''

The company has not decided if it will process fish waste in Alaska this year.

Kake Foods last year mixed all of its seafood waste -- including pink and chum salmon heads, crab shells and guts and fish tails -- with wood chips to make organic fertilizer. The compost operation is 7.5 miles from Kake on Kupreanof Island 38 air miles northwest of Petersburg.

Kake Foods recently was awarded a $47,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to acquire organic certification and test possible product names on focus groups.

''Alaska Thunder Dirt is a name we're kicking around,'' Mitchell said.

The plant has the capacity to process all of Southeast processors' fish waste, Mitchell said. Kake is working on agreements with processors to acquire more waste, but has no contracts in place.

''Nobody that has an EPA or DEC problem with dumping waste into water should have a problem, because we'll gladly take their waste,'' he said.

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