Business, Fishing, Health

Fish Factor: Medicinal Sea Cucumbers, Beluga Day, Fishery Grants, Video Contest and Salmon Season Count

by Laine Welch-

Medicinal Sea Cucumbers

Editor’s note: Drug development is a long road, and many compounds that show initial promise in laboratories do not end up being suitable for treating actual humans with actual diseases. For those few that do, it may take several years between the initial findings and a drug available to patients. 

Laine Welch of Alaska Fish Radio/Fish Factor

Sea cucumber meat and skins have long been considered a delicacy in Asian cuisines; they also are hailed for having healing properties that soothe sore joints and arthritis. Most recently the soft, tubular bottom dwellers are being added to the list of foods acclaimed to kill cancer cells.

Dried sea cucumber or extract is anti-viral; anti-bacterial, and an anti-inflammatory, said Ty Bollinger, a leading cancer expert and author of Cancer: Step Outside the Box.

Sea cucumbers are very high in chondroitin sulfate, commonly used to treat joint pain and arthritis. To my knowledge, they have the highest concentrations of any animal,” he said in an interview, adding that scientists have been studying the echinoderms for more than 15 years.

“They have properties that are cytotoxic, meaning they kill cancer cells, and that also help stimulate your immune system. The sea cucumber does both,” Bollinger added.

The cuke extracts have demonstrated the ability to kill lung, breast, prostate, skin, colon, pancreatic and liver cancer cells, reports Ethan Evers, author of The Eden Prescription. Credit for clobbering the cancer cells goes to a special molecule called Frondoside A isolated from the sea cucumber by researchers at United Arab Emirates University.

In a 2013 PubMed.gov report, the researchers said Frondocide A was a “highly safe compound” that in lab tests significantly decreased the growth and migration of lung cancer cells. They said their findings identify it as “a promising novel therapeutic agent for lung cancer.”

While sea cucumber capsules, powders and liquids can be bought over the pharmacy counter, Bollinger said you won’t see cancer credentials on the packaging because the claims have not been verified by federal health agencies.

A scan of online retail shelves shows a varied mix of products and sizes typically selling between $20 to $40. Alaska Wild Caught Sun Dried Red Sea Cucumbers are priced at $75 to $145 per pound. Cukes sold to the food market fetch $25 to $110 per pound.

There are nearly 1,700 species of sea cucumbers in the world’s oceans.  Starting October 1, up to 200 Alaska divers will be heading down for the red variety that thrives throughout Southeast waters. The animals, which can grow to 20 inches and weigh just over a pound, typically produce a harvest that tops one million pounds.

The divers usually get more than $4 a pound for cukes, making the fishery worth nearly $5 million at the docks. It could be worth far more, but sea otters have devoured virtually every sea cucumber from the Panhandle’s most abundant bays in recent years.

Count belugas!

Citizen scientists and whale lovers are invited to help count belugas in Upper Cook Inlet. The first annual Belugas Count! will begin at 9am on Saturday, September 9 with shoreside counts from 12 stations in Turnagain and Knik Arm using binoculars and aerial survey videos. From noon to 5pm, the Alaska Zoo will feature beluga related booths and events; the beluga tally will be announced at the end of the day.

The free, all-day event is a collaboration by federal and state agencies and organizations to bring more awareness to the endangered beluga whales.

“Belugas are a big part of what makes Cook Inlet a special place, but they need our help,” said Jim Balsiger, head of NOAA Fisheries in Alaska.  “This event is a great way for the public to get involved and support beluga whale conservation.”

The Cook Inlet beluga population numbered around 1,300 in the 1970s but has dwindled to just over 300 animals today, said Bob Shavelson of Cook Inlet Keeper, which has been tracking the belugas for federal overseers for a decade.

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“They are not rebounding and we need to know what is going on,” Shavelson said. “We’ve seen virtually no change in industrial activity in Upper Cook Inlet as a result of the whales being placed on the endangered species list. The municipality of Anchorage is still dumping up to 30 million gallons a day of treated sewage into beluga habitat.”

Salmon-inspired dumpster in Cordova, Alaska. Photo: Allison Sayer.

Fish funds

The national Saltonstall Kennedy grant competition – ongoing since 1954 – is calling for simplified advance proposals for its annual backing of projects that focus on the US fishing industry. The money – about $145 million most years – comes from a tax paid to the U.S. Customs Service on seafood imports. About $12 million will fund SK grants this go around, ranging from $25,000 to $300,000 for two years.

The popular program is always top heavy with academic and state applicants but it is trying to broaden its range, said Dan Namur, director of external funding for NOAA Fisheries.

“Over the past two years we’ve tried to open the door and make it more accessible to everybody,” Namur said during an outreach trip to Alaska.  “We’re really seeking applications that demonstrate a direct benefit to the U.S. fishing industry and that have a lot of involvement from fishing communities. “

Alaska received more than $1.5 million in SK grants last year primarily for fishery data collection projects.

The call now is for two-page proposals that focus on four areas, including marine aquaculture and seafood marketing.

“From marketing existing fisheries to developing new markets for a fish that is underutilized, as well as branching out into areas that we’re not tapping as well as we could,” Namur explained.

Another funding target is environmental changes and long-term impacts on fishing communities. “That could be physical changes happening in the environment. It also could be socio-economic impacts on the working waterfront, the communities and the  individuals who live there,” he said.

A fourth SK grant priority is territorial science.

We’re looking for better information for data poor areas,” Namur said. “One of the things we found in our territories, whether in the Western Pacific or the Caribbean, we need better data to make solid management decisions.”

The deadline for SK pre-proposals is October 10. For more information, see www.Grants.gov

Video bling

The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute is holding its first video contest that showcases the fishing life.

“Scenery and fishing is great but we also want to see more footage from processors and other parts of the industry.  Alaska’s seafood industry may start in the ocean and on the boats, but it ends at the plate. It would be great to capture some of that in the videos,” said Jeremy Woodward, ASMI Communications Director.

Three winning videos up to five minutes long will be selected to be included in ASMI’s promotional programs around the globe. Cash prizes are $1,500; $1,000 and $500. The deadline to enter is September 30. Questions?Visit here or www.alaskaseafood.org/

Salmon watch

Alaska’s total salmon catch has surpassed the preseason forecast of 204 million fish, topping 206 million salmon on Friday with lots of fishing left to go.

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