Alaska’s fishing industry dominates the state’s economy right behind oil, but the approximately 50 percent of scrap left from each fish after processing has largely gone to waste.
Local fisherman Craig Kasberg has long considered using the waste after his salmon is filleted and in May, the first products from his start-up business, Tidal Vision, will become available online.
Currently, Alaskan fisheries dump nearly 2 billion pounds of fish and crab waste into the ocean or a landfill each year. Kasberg said he hopes to purchase this waste from fish processors and use it to create marketable products.
“There’s a fairly small market currently compared to the volume of waste produced,” Kasberg told the Empire on Thursday. “The least saturated market for a business in Alaska is waste.”
Most people have heard of the beneficial qualities of fish oil but few have heard of a Band-Aid made from crab shells. The potential uses for seafood byproducts are numerous and range from salmon leather shoes to stem cell research.
Kasberg is starting modestly. The first items for sale from Tidal Vision will include salmon leather wallets, purses and belts, along with clothing made from crab shells. Chitosan, the useful element created from shells and woven into fiber, inhibits bacterial growth and absorbs sweat, effectively preventing odor.
Imagine wearing crab shell socks.
Kasberg said processing fish skin in Washington is very similar to tanning cow hides, but the extraction of chitin (then converted to Chitosan) from crab shells is a bit more complicated.
The usual scenario involves harsh chemicals to separate the chitin from crab shells, but Kasberg has developed a process that would eliminate the use of any non-biodegradable element.
With his extraction method, even the portion leftover after separation can be used as fertilizer.
Tidal Vision’s first processor is expected to be complete in May and the entire facility will be housed in a Conex storage container. This way, the whole operation is mobile and can travel between regions for production.
Many fisheries in Alaska have not ventured into the byproduct market yet because they simply don’t have the time or resources, according to Kasberg. However, the crab shell and fish skin industry is not a new concept.
An Alaska salmon leather company called Alaskins was formed at a Juneau storefront by locals in 1987 and eventually expanded its production line to include deer skin and reindeer hide sold in over 170 stores across eight states.
The company borrowed its fish leather idea from the traditional Tlingit method to create clothing from salmon and halibut skins.
One of Alaskins’ original investors, Mike Ban, is now a consultant for Kasberg’s new enterprise.
Many countries that dominate the farmed fish industry have long taken stock in utilizing the entire fish — not just the edible portion.
Iceland in particular has led the way for fish waste technology and after Thor Sigfusson, director of the Iceland Ocean Cluster, spoke at Juneau’s 2014 Innovation Summit, the city organized a trade mission to Iceland last October.
The Southeast Ocean Cluster, formed through JEDC, is now working on multiple initiatives to fully use various ocean products.
Moving beyond oil
At this year’s Innovation Summit, Scott Stern from MIT spoke on the necessity for Alaska to begin using more of its biggest natural resource: fish.
The price of oil has been steadily dropping over the years, along with Alaska’s holdings. Stern said in 2007, about 30 percent of the nation’s oil reserves were located in Alaska. In 2013, that amount dropped to 10 percent.
“There is a need for a new Alaskan economic strategy based on unique Alaskan advantages beyond oil reserves,” he said.
Juneau Economic Development executive director Brian Holst said Alaska has maintained a firm stance against farmed fish and has profited from the idea of fresh, wild Alaskan salmon, which is sold at a premium worldwide for its quality. He added, however, that farmed fish industries are becoming increasingly efficient and the cost for fish is dropping. This could pose a threat to the allure of Alaska’s more expensive wild salmon.
“If we are committed to not farming, our stock is by definition limited,” he said. “And we are very close to our natural limits.”
Alaska is currently the only state in the nation with a constitutional mandate that all fish be used sustainably and commercial fishing is strictly regulated to preserve the population, according to the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.
Holst said the answer to taking full advantage of Alaska’s fisheries is to maximize profit from not just seafood but the entirety of ocean products. The idea is slowly catching on in Juneau.
In February, the annual Symphony of Seafood held by the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation was held for the first time in Juneau. The event also introduced a brand new category this year — “Beyond the Plate” — which featured items made from fish byproducts.
Kasberg, a graduate of Juneau-Douglas High School, has been in the commercial fishing industry for nine years and said he sees his home in Juneau as the prime market for fish waste products.
He hopes to expand his industry from textiles to health care, such as sutures or Band-Aids, and even more once the company gets going. Tidal Vision’s first products will be available for purchase this summer through a Kickstarter campaign to raise proceeds for the waste processing business.
More information on the products and process of Tidal Vision can be found at http://tidalvisionusa.com/.
• Contact reporter Stephanie Shor at 523-2279 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.