ASMI scores $1m in NOAA grants to turn seafood “gurry into gold”

AK processors discard 3 Billion pounds of seafood byproducts each year. ASMI aims to turn that gurry into big profits for Alaska.

by | June 11, 2024

Projects target AK-branded pet food; markets for fish heads, skins, oils, innards, etc.

Nearly three billion pounds of seafood byproducts are discarded by Alaska shoreside processors each year.

While all other U.S. protein producers – from beef to pork to poultry – use all parts of the animals “from the rooter to the tooter,” Alaska processors utilize only about 46% of all seafood that runs through their plants.

Nearly all the rest of the fish/crab byproducts are ground up and buried or discharged at sea.

The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI) plans to turn that around by creating methods and markets for those wasted fishery byproducts that could bring in hundreds of millions of dollars more in revenues to State coffers, fishermen and Alaska communities.

That is ASMI’s primary and overreaching goal: to increase the value of Alaska’s seafood resources.

NOAA Fisheries announced in late May that ASMI will receive $500,000 for each of two projects under the 2024 Saltonstall-Kennedy Competitive Grants Program.

The first project under “Promotion and Marketing” will target the pet food industry. The second project under “Science or Technology that Enhances Sustainable U.S. Fisheries” aims to utilize and market Alaska fish wastes in general.

Alaska-branded pet foods

In 2022 the ASMI board of directors passed a motion to allow ASMI to promote Alaska seafood in the pet food market. The project abstract says that US pet food manufacturers purchased $893 million in fisheries products for use in cat and dog food. However, total agricultural products purchased for the sector reached $6.9 billion, meaning seafood only holds a fraction of the market share in a highly lucrative market.

This project would allow ASMI to create resources for the Alaska seafood industry to target the pet food sector.

For over 40 years ASMI has created marketing materials for the seafood industry’s use and has identified items most important to establishing a brand. These include buyer guides, a brand logo with maximum consumer impact, photography and video assets in an online library, and many other sales tools.

The abstract states that the benefits of this project will be realized differently across four sectors: large seafood processors, small and medium sized processors, independent Alaskan treat or pet food manufactures currently using Alaska seafood, and new Alaskan treat or pet food companies.

Alaskan Gold pet products are made in Sitka, AK

Coastal communities where Alaska seafood is processed will realize broad benefits. About 87 Alaska shoreside facilities process at least 100,000 pounds of seafood annually, at least 70 facilities handle more than a million pounds each year, and roughly 10 floating processors operate in various locations.

By providing additional markets, shoulder-season work and higher value for by-products, benefits from this project will be seen throughout coastal Alaska, the pet food abstract says.

Increased use of byproducts: a collaborative 100% Fish Initiative

The second $500,000 ASMI grant will go towards increasing uses and value for Alaska seafood byproducts using a collaborative approach.

ASMI, the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation (AFDF), the McKinley Research Group, the Iceland Ocean Cluster (IOC), and University of Alaska-Fairbanks’ Alaska Blue Economy Center (ABEC) will evaluate existing value-added processing methodologies currently used in the Iceland Ocean Cluster and determine which could be applied to Alaska processes and species.

The partnership will build upon Iceland’s “100% Fish Initiative” and be based upon ASMI’s 2017 Specialty Products Report. It will provide next steps for the Alaska seafood industry to make more informed decisions “as they seek to enhance the value of their products through feasibility analysis from both a scientific and business lens.”

“Existing reports and information are insufficient for most industry members to determine what products they could produce, what challenges (and relevant solutions) may exist, and how best to implement them. We intend to provide information to enhance value, reduce waste, and create new potential markets,” the ASMI project abstract says.

New markets will attract new employment opportunities for technical specialists and create more infrastructure for fishing communities. It will allow greater value for the volume of harvests and create additional value from new products made from the same volume of fish.

Contact for both projects is John Burrows, ASMI Seafood Technical Director, jburrows@alaskaseafood.org/

Some Alaska seafood examples

A 2017 ASMI report on “specialty products” showed that using fish heads, oils, internal organs, skins, crab parts and underutilized species such as herring or sculpin could be worth upwards of $700 million to Alaska each year.

Of the three BILLION pounds of seafood byproducts that Alaska produces each year, nearly one billion pounds are fish heads, which account for most of the processing waste.

Some of the heads are used in meal and oil production but most are ground up and dumped.   Just 1% is sold as frozen heads. Upping that could add about $100 million to first wholesale value.  Supermarket prices in China, for example, show salmon heads selling for up to $5 per pound, salmon skins at $2.46, and salmon bones at $5.10 per pound.

For Alaska fish oils, the bulk is burned in plants as a diesel fuel substitute or sold into lower value commodity markets. Producing refined fish oil for human consumption could  increase Alaska’s value to  well over $30 million each year.

[READ MORE HERE: Alaska is quietly permitting major on-shore fish processors like Silver Bay Seafoods and Trident Seafoods to dump thousands of tons of seafood waste at the mouths of bays, rivers, sounds, and inlets. Meet the Gut Boats of Alaska.]

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About Laine

Laine Welch has covered the Alaska fish beat for print and radio since 1988. She also has worked “behind the counter” at retail and wholesale seafood companies in Kodiak and on Cape Cod.

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