Alaska Fish Quality – Proper Fish Handling
Alaska has long been known for producing the highest quality salmon and other seafood in the world. However, the increased competition from Russian fisheries and fish farms around the world has made it more important than ever for Alaska to maintain the highest quality of fish. Alaska’s seafood marketing group has taken great efforts to let the world know that Alaska’s salmon are superior to farmed salmon in both flavor and quality. Their efforts have paid off in the states and worldwide.
Recently it has become evident to many fishermen and processing operations that the key to higher profitability may lie in marketing higher-quality fish. Today, much more care is taken to ensure that fish are better cared for from the moment they are trapped in nets to the moment they are sold to consumers. With some international markets having large stores of low-grade fish, it is expected that they will be willing to pay a higher price for top-grade product. Spending money for refrigeration and improving handling methods can help if used expeditiously. Steps can be taken by fishermen, offshore processors, and onshore processing plants in order to make sure buyers see a better product.
There is no clear-cut definition of fish quality; rather, it is a combination of things. Consumers and buyers from the marketplace look at odor, shelf life, fish appearance, and packaging in order to help them determine what condition the fish is in, and ultimately, what price they’ll pay for it. If fish are cooled to 32 degrees Fahrenheit as soon as possible, onset of bacteriological breakdown is slowed greatly. Studies show that fish kept at 34 degrees Fahrenheit spoil 20 percent faster than fish kept at 32 degrees Fahrenheit. In addition to bacterial growth, the dead fish is also subject to biochemical changes which may cause discoloration of flesh, poor-tasting meat, and unpleasant smell. Not all fish are the same, either. There is a premium placed on troll-caught fish over net-caught fish because of the tendency for bruising by nets.
Increasing Fish Quality
The first step to a higher-quality catch is getting the fish out of the water as quickly as possible, because fish held in nets for long periods of time begin to deteriorate. When the fish are brought aboard, they need to be handled with care. Bruised, scaleless fish are not as marketable as unscathed fish; so, when unloading, the same precautions should be taken. Equally important is how fish are held. Never lift a fish by the tail. This causes the flesh to gape and results in a downgrade of the meat’s value. Instead, it’s best to cradle fish in both hands. Many better-run operations will ‘bleed’ any live fish in order to get better flesh qualities and an improved shelf life. In order to do this, the fish must be alive when bled and kept in cold water; it is a labor-intensive task involving precious additional space, but it pays off.
Shelf life and quality are even further enhanced by cooling or icing the newly caught fish promptly. Better-funded, larger operations freeze fish at sea, while most other operations use either ice or slurry tank methods (using chilled sea water) to cool fish. Sanitation also is crucial in order to avoid the spread of salmonella and other bacteria that may either destroy the fish or cause consumer illness. Everything should be cleaned and sanitized thoroughly on a regular basis to avoid bacterial buildups. Decreasing the number of low-quality fish going to the market has become a very important issue in the Alaska fishing industry and will continue to be in the future.