When it comes to reeling in seafood news, the catch of the day is that the U.S. industry is strong.
It’s no fish tale that fishing and seafood consumption in the U.S. increased in 2017, with landings and value of domestic fisheries continuing a strong, positive trend, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Across the nation, fishermen landed 9.9 billion pounds of fish and shellfish in 2017, while the U.S. imported 5.9 billion pounds of seafood, up 1.6 percent from 2016, NOAA notes in its annual Fisheries of the United States report released Dec. 13, 2018.
Overall, says NOAA in its report, the highest-value U.S. commercial species in 2017 were salmon ($688 million), crabs ($610 million), lobsters ($594 million), shrimp ($531 million), scallops ($512 million), and Alaska pollock ($413 million). By volume, the nation’s largest commercial fishery remains Alaska pollock, which had near-record landings of 3.4 billion pounds (up 1 percent from 2016).
NOAA notes that in 2016, estimated freshwater plus marine U.S. aquaculture production was 633.5 million pounds, with a value of $1.45 billion. Atlantic salmon was the leading species for marine finfish aquaculture, with 35.7 million pounds produced. Atlantic salmon produced was valued at $67.7 million. Oysters had the highest volume for marine shellfish production at 36.6 million pounds.
Estimated U.S. per capita consumption of fish and shellfish was 16.0 pounds in 2017, an increase of 1.1 pounds from the 14.9 pounds consumed in 2016.
Given these statistics, it’s no surprise that professionals working throughout the U.S. seafood chain, be it in training, auditing, or developing value-added new products, are actively and enthusiastically engaged in promoting quality and safety.
Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) training is strong in the seafood industry, says Steve Otwell, PhD, seafood specialist emeritus with the University of Florida. Through the Florida Sea Grant Seafood HACCP program, Dr. Otwell serves as coordinator of the National Seafood HACCP Alliance for Training and Education (Seafood HACCP Alliance). The Seafood HACCP Alliance is a nationwide network of processors, university researchers, and governmental agencies that assists the seafood processing and importing industry with the implementation of HACCP programs.
“The alliance provides science-based information about aquatic food product safety and quality through research, publications, and community outreach programs,” Dr. Otwell explains. “Through its participation in the Seafood HACCP Alliance, Florida Sea Grant provides curriculum and essential training materials that enable seafood processors and importers to comply with federal food safety regulations, including the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).”
Dr. Otwell says seafood HACCP has been enhanced in recent years to include emphasis on traceability, a FSMA requirement, and aquaculture products.
Since 1995, the Seafood HACCP Alliance has trained over 90 percent of the nation’s processors in food safety and compliance techniques, he points out.
“In cooperation with the Association of Food and Drug Officials, the Seafood HACCP Alliance has developed a uniform and cost-effective training program for importers, processors, and distributors of fish and fishery products,” Dr. Otwell elaborates. “The training assists with the implementation of HACCP programs in commercial and regulatory settings.”
Courses have been developed for training in basic HACCP programs and the related Sanitation Control Procedures. Train-the-trainer courses are also offered. “The audience for these programs is the seafood processing and importing industry, regulatory officials, and extension agents based in the U.S.,” Dr. Otwell relates.
In 2000, Dr. Otwell initiated an annual Shrimp School based at the University of Florida, which has recently been adopted under the leadership of the National Fisheries Institute (NFI). The first NFI edition was held in Manteo, N.C., in November 2018 and, based on the success of this event, a follow-up session is scheduled for April 2019 in the same location.
“Some 50,000 seafood professionals from every shrimp producing nation have attended the schools to date,” Dr. Otwell notes. “Each school typically includes about 25 students from industry and two to seven instructors representing academia, USDA, and FDA. In addition to lectures, the sessions are very hands on. We cover how to monitor for bacteria, sensory evaluation, temperature control, as well as product quality, safety, and integrity. These schools are self-sustaining and have worked well to benefit all stakeholders. They are a perfect example of an effective public private partnership.”
Dr. Otwell is quick to point out that, relative to most consumers who become ill after eating seafood, it’s usually because the product is raw, not because of the product itself. “The number one seafood safety problem today is that consumers are not getting enough seafood to eat,” he believes. “As a result, people are lacking the nutritional benefits of fish, a situation that affects us all.”
Public Health Training
Noting that the FDA seafood HACCP regulation turned 21 years old on Dec. 18, 2018, Barry Nash, MS, North Carolina Sea Grant’s (NCSG) seafood technology and marketing specialist, says seafood safety training remains an ongoing need. To that end, he and Jeff French, a regional environmental health specialist with the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries (NCDMF), focus on training local health department inspectors and others regarding seafood safety.
“Processors and food distributors are the main wholesale entities that are subject to the seafood HACCP regulation,” Nash points out. “The NCSG and NCDMF developed the North Carolina Seafood Quality and Safety Workshop to focus on seafood safety and handling concerns in restaurants and retail outlets, which the federal rule doesn’t typically cover.”
This annual two-day training program is jointly organized by NCSG, NCDMF, and the North Carolina Environmental Health State of Practice Committee, French relates. “The target audiences are county-based environmental health specialists who regulate restaurants and other retail food establishments and seafood businesses, as well as the general public,” he says.
According to Nash and French, topics presented include harvest methods, proper receiving and handling of seafood products, seafood-borne illnesses, economic fraud, and wholesale and retail HACCP issues. Speakers are federal, state, and local experts in seafood safety and commerce.
Since 1998, more than 600 individuals have attended the workshop.
“This training program is important because new innovations in prepared seafood meals are starting to come from restaurant chefs and community-supported fisheries retailers who are not always familiar with the safety rules that govern the production and distribution of packaged-food products,” Nash emphasizes. “This course provides an overview of the vulnerabilities and control measures that prevent, eliminate, or minimize safety issues from dock to dish.”
Best Aquaculture Practices
The Global Aquaculture Alliance (GAA), Portsmouth, N.H., offers Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP) certification to ensure that seafood products come from facilities that are managed in an environmentally, socially, and economically responsible manner, according to Steve Hedlund, GAA’s communications manager. Founded in 1997, the GAA mission is to promote responsible, sustainable aquaculture practices through education, advocacy, and demonstration. The organization’s membership includes individuals, businesses, non-profits, associations, and government agencies engaged in aquaculture.
“Established in 2002, BAP is the world’s most comprehensive third-party aquaculture certification program, with achievable, science-based, and continuously improved global performance standards addressing environmental responsibility, social responsibility, food safety, animal welfare, and traceability,” Hedlund relates. “It’s also the world’s only third-party certification program encompassing the entire aquaculture production chain. We oversee the standards development process and certification process for hatcheries, farms, feed mills, and processing plants.”
Food safety is a key parameter of all BAP standards, which also include environmental, social, animal health and welfare, and traceability, Hedlund notes.
Hedlund explains that these standards are audited for GAA by third-party certification bodies, of which there are six currently. “We train their auditors regularly to ensure every audit is fair, objective, and traceable,” he says. “Our standards are scientific, rigorous, and always evolving to meet challenges in aquaculture.”
As of the end of 2018, some 2,200 facilities in 35 countries on six continents are expected to be certified against the BAP program, Hedlund reports. “Our standards cover virtually 100 percent of the finfish, crustacean, and mollusk species produced in aquaculture settings around the globe,” he elaborates. “While there are other organizations that offer aquaculture auditing services, BAP is the most comprehensive and is the only one that covers food safety.”
Hedlund clarifies that BAP addresses food safety for aquaculture facilities—the process, not the food. “The ultimate goal with the BAP program is that the fish are born in a BAP-certified hatchery, raised on a BAP-certified farm, fed feed from a BAP-certified mill, and processed in a BAP-certified plant,” he relates.
More than 150 retail and food service companies worldwide are publicly committed to sourcing seafood from BAP-certified facilities, Hedlund says.
“We believe being BAP certified demonstrates that a member of the seafood chain is committed to the environment, social integrity, and the health of the animal and consumer,” he emphasizes.
Hedlund mentions that the BAP seafood processing plant standards have been expanded to include wild seafood, and those new standards will be publicly available early in 2019. “That means plants that handle both wild and farmed seafood will be able to apply for BAP certification,” he says.
Resource Utilization: Gone to the Dogs
There’s definitely something fishy about the new product in development for canine consumers at the Kodiak Seafood and Marine Science Center, a component of the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences. “We are making high-end dog treats from pollock skins,” says Chris Sannito, MS, an Alaska Sea Grant seafood technology specialist with this center in the city of Kodiak, the main community on Kodiak Island.
“Currently, with pollock fillet production, only about 25 percent of the fish is recovered for consumption after harvest,” Sannito notes. “Millions of pounds of product are either discharged as waste or processed for fish meal. But pollock is a valuable resource in our state, and pet treats can be a much higher-value commodity than fish meal, so our goal is to increase pollock’s utilization by adding further value to this fish.”
Prior to starting his current position in March 2015, Sannito worked with UAF faculty on a research project funded by the Pollock Conservation Cooperative Research Center, which focuses on the commercial fisheries of the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands. The goal was to determine whether pollock skins could be turned into a product that was tasty to dogs, easy for humans to handle, and shelf-stable for at least six months.
After some experimentation, Sannito determined that extrusion was the most viable manufacturing method for producing pollock pet treats. “At first, we tried a forced air drying oven, but found this would be cost prohibitive due to the amount of labor required to prepare the material for drying,” he explains. “Compared to drying, extrusion offers the major benefits of labor efficiency, improved product recovery, and precise control of temperature, shape, texture, moisture, and color. While pollock skins seem to be an inherently good pet treat medium, because of their small size and difficulty in handling, we’ve determined a reformed treat is more practical than a whole, dried skin.”
These extrusion determinations came about in July 2016, when Sannito shipped 500 pounds of frozen fish skins via FedEx to the Clextral pilot plant, Tampa, Fla. (Clextral manufactures extrusion equipment at its headquarters in France.)
“We ran the skins through an extruder and it transformed them under high pressure and temperature, turning the collagen in the skin into gummy bear texture,” Sannito says. “We added a few additional ingredients to achieve the desired consistency and bind up the moisture.”
With an endless array of possible product shapes available with extrusion, Sannito opted for turning the pollock skins into a green rope (similar to licorice in appearance) and then cutting it into bite-sized pieces. While experimenting with natural and artificial red and blue food colors, during his day at the pilot plant, he decided the natural Army green was the best.
“The natural green color seemed healthier and we wanted clean labels showcasing a wholesome product,” Sannito explains. “We fully realize pet owners read food labels for their dogs like they do for themselves. Our ultimate goal is to produce a high-quality product that is safe for pets to eat, shelf stable, and enticing for humans to purchase.”
Sannito mentions that, under vacuum packaging and storage at 86 degrees Fahrenheit, the extruded pollock treats remain stable for at least 180 days.
In May 2017, Sannito and Quentin Fong, PhD, Alaska Sea Grant’s seafood marketing specialist, received the 2017 Invent Alaska award for “innovation in research leading to commercialization” from the UAF Fairbanks Office of Intellectual Property and Commercialization. This award came at the end of the initial phase of the pet treats project, Sannito says.
“In 2018, a new funding opportunity came through with the UAF Center Ice Seed Fund,” Sannito mentions. “This award is making a seed fund of $24,800 available to move the pollock pet treats forward from the experimental stage to the commercial market.”
To that end, Sannito and his longtime friend and business collaborator, Jerry Pupillo, MS, a marketing consultant based in Hawaii, are currently pursuing industry partners to develop the pollock co-product for wholesale and retail sales.
According to Sannito, some pet food companies already make pet treats with fish components. “While some pet treat manufacturers have begun to utilize fish meal and fish oil as ingredients, our treats stand out because we are specifically incorporating fish skins into our product to take advantage of the unique functional properties of fish collagen found in fish skins,” he explains. “These properties give our pet treat product some unique characteristics and nutritional benefits that we believe make them very appealing to dogs and their owners.”
Sannito adds that the skin of cod or any white fish would work well for extruded pet treats. (Salmon skins pose challenges due to their oil content and scales.) “Any coastal community is awash in fish skins wherever they process a large amount of skinless, boneless filets,” Sannito points out.
“The pollock treats are not fishy smelling to humans, but they have plenty of that deep-sea essence dogs love so much,” Sannito relates. “They also seem to be easily digestible by canines based on early trials.”
Global Seafood Statistics
Global aquaculture continues to grow faster than other major food production sectors according to the 2018 State of the World Fisheries and Aquaculture, published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) to highlight the critical importance of fisheries and aquaculture for the food, nutrition, and employment of millions of people worldwide.
Global fish production peaked at about 171 million tonnes in 2016, FAO reports, with aquaculture representing 47% of the total and 53% if non-food uses (including reduction to fishmeal and fish oil) are excluded. (One tonne equals 2,204.6 pounds.) The total first sale value of fisheries and aquaculture production in 2016 was estimated at $362 billion, of which $232 billion was from aquaculture production.—L.L.L.