Business, Featured, Fishing, Technology

Fish Factor: Ugly Crab, Hatchery Hauls, and Tracking FVs

by Laine Welch-

Get Ugly

Photo from the Seafood Expo North America in Boston. Photo by Jake Jacobsen

“It’s what’s on the inside that counts” is the message Alaska crab marketers are pushing to encourage their customers to put appearances aside.

“We’re telling them to Get Ugly,” said Tyson Fick, executive director of the trade group, Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, speaking of the new campaign launched in partnership with the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute last week at the big Seafood Expo in Boston.

The promotion showcases Alaska crabs with darker, discolored shells, or those that are scarred or adorned with barnacles that may be less visually appealing to shoppers.

“It’s the initial step in a campaign to raise awareness among retailers, restaurants and consumers,” said Jeremy Woodrow, ASMI communications director. “We’re saying ‘go ahead, tell your customers to get ugly. After all, it’s what’s on the inside that counts.”

“Ugly crab is safe and delicious to eat, it just isn’t as pretty,” says a flyer distributed at the Boston expo, explaining that shell appearance varies based on crab maturity and timing of the molt. It says that shell variations demonstrate “the authentic nature of seafood caught in the wild,” and that “purchasing ugly crab is a way to support our planet’s wild resources.”

The Get Ugly team is modeling Alaska crab after similar image enhancement efforts underway by farmers.

“We’re taking a page out of the book of what some fruits and vegetable have done – that a blemish doesn’t affect the taste of the thing, and with crab, the meat fill might even be better,” Fick said, adding that avoiding food waste and improving sustainability are also part of the message.

Creating more customers for less attractive crab also would improve fishermen’s bottom lines, as the less pretty product drags down prices.

“It is graded at the processor and may be graded further at the repacker. There may be several grades for off-color shells depending on the species, quantity and other factors. It varies from year to year,” said Jake Jacobsen, director of the Inter-Cooperative Exchange which negotiates prices for most Bering Sea crabbers.

The ugly crab can comprise up to 30 percent of a catch at certain times, which has been the case during this year’s snow crab fishery, said Fick.

“We are in a cycle, especially with snow crab, where there is a higher percentage of old shell crab. We are trying to create consumer demand to help with that situation,” he said.

By all accounts, the Get Ugly campaign got lots of good feedback in Boston. Fick believes it offers potential for other Alaska seafood.

“Fish with net marks or a little bit of blush to the skin color on a salmon – seafood products that have visual imperfections but are still fantastic quality otherwise,” he said. “It truly is what’s on the inside that counts.”

Hatchery Hauls

The number of salmon returning to Alaska hatcheries last year nearly doubled over the 2016 run, but the proportion of the catch they contributed to the state’s total salmon catch declined.

Hatchery fish made up 21 percent of Alaska’s commercial salmon catch in 2017, the lowest level since 1995.  The hatchery take usually adds up to one third of Alaska’s salmon catch or more.

“The average return of hatchery fish was simply dwarfed by a near record high wild stock harvest,” said Mark Stopha, author of the annual salmon enhancement report for the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game in Juneau.

Fishermen last year caught just under 50 million salmon that began their lives in hatcheries. The fish were valued at more than $160 million at the docks, 24 percent of Alaska’s total salmon fishery value.

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Currently, 29 salmon hatcheries are operating in Alaska – 25 are operated by private nonprofit corporations and funded primarily from the sale of a portion of salmon returns. Two sport fish hatcheries are operated by the state, one research hatchery by NOAA Fisheries, and one production hatchery by the Metlakatla Indian Community.

Pink and chum salmon by far make up most of Alaska’s hatchery production. The fish are released as fingerlings to the sea and are offspring of brood stocks originally derived from wild salmon stocks near each hatchery.

Most hatchery production occurs at Prince William Sound, where the 28 million hatchery-produced fish caught last year were valued at $70 million, nearly 60 percent of the region’s total salmon fishery value.

Southeast is next with hatchery catches of about 8 million, mostly chums. The fish accounted for nearly 40 percent of Southeast’s total salmon fishery value of $53 million. Kodiak’s two hatcheries contributed $3 million, or six percent, to the island’s salmon catch last year, mostly from sockeyes.

About 150,000 hatchery salmon, mostly sockeyes, were caught last year at Cook Inlet, valued at over a half million dollars.

The Dept. of Fish and Game also coordinates educational programs with state and private hatcheries at 150 Alaska schools where kids hatch and grow salmon in their classrooms.

Hatchery operators forecast a return of about 54 million fish to Alaska this year.

Fishing tracker

I know that my son has been fishing on the west side of Kodiak Island. How?

A new, free interactive map lets anyone zero in on near real-time views of fishing patterns of individual boats and fishing fleets anywhere in the world.

Researchers at the University of California’s Bren School of Environmental Science & Management created a Global Fishing Watch map using satellite images and common ship-tracking technology, marking the first time that a global fishing footprint has been quantified.

After observing more than 40 million hours of fishing activity in 2016, they discovered that five countries account for more than 85 percent of high seas fishing – China, Spain, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea.

Fishing activity now covers at least 55 percent of the world’s oceans—four times the land area covered by agriculture.

The trackers found that 70,000 vessels of the global fishing fleet traveled nearly 286 million miles in 2016 – equivalent to traveling to the moon and back 600 times.

The team used machine learning technology to analyze 22 billion messages publicly broadcasted from vessels’ Automatic Identification Systems (AIS) over four years.

Based solely on movement patterns, the Global Fishing Watch algorithm was able to identify each commercial fishing vessel, its size and engine power, what type of fishing they were doing, and when and where they fished down to the hour and mile.

By making the Global Fishing Watch public, the researchers said governments, managers and researchers now have information to make better decisions in regulating fishing activities and reaching conservation and sustainability goals.

Laine Welch of Alaska Fish Radio/Fish Factor

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