Aquaculture for all

Fish Spells Oil Boom and More for Alaska

ALASKA - Alaska's economy could get a boost out of oil - but not crude. Fish oils ar the most sought-after health product and the near Arctic state is well placed to capitalise on growing global demand.

Speaking in Alaska's Journal of Commerce, Peter Bechtel, a US Department of Agriculture researcher at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, said there is almost a revolution happening right now.

"Everyone is interested in the health benefits from omega-3 fatty acids, and Alaska's cold water marine fish are an excellent source," he said. "We have a huge amount of material in Alaska that isn't made into fillets or roe, and we need to do something with this. This is especially important to parts of the salmon industry in Southeast Alaska."

Bechtel said seafood companies are realizing there is lots more value in all that fish gurry.

"Almost anything that can be made out of these byproducts has increased in value tremendously in the last couple of years," Bechtel said.

The material can be made into fish oils, fish meals, supplements, gelatins from skins, and ingredients for farm animals, even ingredients for the cosmetic industry. Bechtel said fish oils can also cut energy needs in rural Alaska.

"In Alaska a lot of fish oil can be made. The question is how much is it worth. The current price is the same as boiler fuel. It can be used to heat hot water and other things," he said.

Bechtel said Alaska is making tremendous strides in byproducts utilization - one fish part at a time. And federal investment could help fuel fish oil projects for Alaska fishermen.

Scaling-back Aqua Predictions

However, cod farmers are also scaling back on their predictions to be the next big boom in aquaculture.

A few years ago industry watchers hailed cod as the next aquaculture gold rush and said world farmed production could approach 500 million pounds within a decade. But now cod farming appears to be floundering.

Reports from Norway, the world's cod farming leader, now say fish growers will produce less than 10,000 tons of cod this year, not enough for a viable market.

Farmers are saying attempts to grow the fish commercially have hit some big biological roadblocks. A major problem is that farmed cod reach sexual maturity much more quickly than wild fish - sometimes within a year. That means when they reach market size 18 months later, the cod flesh has turned mushy, with no sales value. Selective breeding and other methods could solve the problem, but that takes money.

Costs for successful aquaculture are high, and the problems have discouraged investors.

Tastier Tilapia

But making farmed fish taste like a wild one is the latest investment of HQ Sustainable Maritime Industries, one of the world's biggest tilapia growers, has created "sea-flavored" tilapia.

HQ uses a secret mix of flavoring compounds and other high tech methods to "manipulate its farmed fish to taste like wild pollock."

The company wants to break the hold that Alaska pollock has in the fast food and fish finger markets.

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