Six years ago , the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute ,with the help and support of United Fishermen of Alaska ,undertook the Alaska Herring Development Project with the goal of helping the Alaska seafood industry create a viable ,sustainable market for Alaska herring as a human food product .
Alaska herring has historically been harvested primarily for the Japanese roe market and for the bail used to catch other species ,such as halibut and crab , and even reduced for oil .The need for herring oil was made obsolete 60 years ago with the development of petroleum and with the introduction of lower -cost oil from Peruvian anchoveta .The roe market has been in a steep decline for the last 15 years ,due to changing tastes among Japanese consumers .
A key component of the project has been the purchase of several essential pieces of equipment that were non-existent in Alaska ,or the United States.This equipment has been used to develop and refine the process needed to produce various consumer products from springtime(spawning) Alaska herring ,namerly herring fillets ,and canned herring .
Alaska canned herring has now been sampled in local dishes and tested with food aid recipients around the world from Africa to Asia to the Americas with extremely positive reviews .Our in -depth field research in Liberia and Guinea-Bissau has shown herring to help malnourished and food -insecure people of all ages ,improving their nutrition profiles beyond anyone´s greates expectations .It is like no other product available in international food aid programs ,as it delivers concentrated .high-quality marine protein and omerga -3 fatty acids sorely lacking in the diets of food aid recipients .
The Alaska Global Food Aid Program has moved canned herring into federal food aid and nutrition programs ,with new specifications placing it firmly on the United States Departaments of Agriculture list of products available for both domestic and international food aid and disaster relief.
ASMI has partenered with several Alaska seafood industry members over the last six years to guide this research and development project out of the harbor .Ocean Beauty Seafoods, Trident Seafoods, Icicle Seafoods ,North Pacific Seafoods and Cooper River Seafoods have all played a part , from providing the raw product to marketing and processing .
Developing new products and building a viable market for those products is a long-term ,expensive ,and therefore risky ,undertaking .Even though the worldwide market for herring products is very mature and large ,Alaska´s geographical positioning in relation to those markets puts us at an extreme disavantage given the high costs of freight and energy .
North Pacific Seafoods has figured out how to get beyond these challenges and has been processing Togiak herring in Bristol Bay this spring into fillets for a commercial market .The Herring Development Project helped to facilitate this by loaning our unique herring processing machinery to their operation in Naknek ,Alaska .What North Pacific Seafoods has done this spring is a first in Alaska and a great step forward toward bringing Alaska herring to a new market .
After producing a large ammount of wild Alaska herring fillets ,North Pacific Seafoods will produce enough canned product for the Alaska Global Food Aid Program to share with interested members of the worldwide food aid market ,and will also supply the Alaska herring fillets for this year´s Northwest Herring Week in Seatle.
In summer of 2015 , a handful of restaurants and retail establishments in Seatle started a Herring Week promotion ,where well-known restaurants served wild herring in innovative ways ,introducing the greater Seatle area to its culinary diversity beyond traditional salted and pickled dishes .Highlighting wild Alaska herring as a previously underutilized species holds promise as savvy seafood diners look to diversify their intake of lesser-known fish in an effert to ease pressure off more mainstream seafood offerings .
In 2016 ,this promotion will extend to 40 or more restaurants and will again offer a creative assortment of menus featuring Alaska herring fillets that are produced in Alaska .
Alaska had the vision to support this project ,and as research and development goes ,positive progress has been made in a relatively short period of time .If the industry can add to these early accoplishments and consumers can continue to develop a preference for herring ,Alaska fishermen and their communities ,from Nome to Metlakatla ,will see the economic growth that was envisioned at the very beginning of this project.