ANCHORAGE - Millions of Alaska hatchery salmon were fed food contaminated with the same substance behind a massive pet food recall across the country.
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The melamine-infused fish feed - which has been recalled by the distributor - is believed to pose no significant health hazard to humans or the fish, according to officials with the state Department of Fish and Game.
Some hatchery operators might have to continue feeding the product to their fish for lack of substitute feed, said Patti Nelson, the state's deputy director for commercial fisheries.
Nelson said "a number of hatcheries" were using the feed to raise pink and chum salmon fry, but she would not name the hatcheries. Many of the tiny fish are within days or weeks of being mature enough to be released to the ocean to grow to adulthood.
Nelson - citing the U.S. Food and Drug Administration - said any melamine the fish consume is likely to pass out of their systems in days, won't accumulate in their bodies, and poses no danger to people who eat the salmon, which wouldn't be consumed until after returning from sea years from now.
"We don't believe there's a human health concern, nor a health concern for the fish," Nelson said.
Federal authorities launched an investigation and pet food makers launched product recalls recently after wheat gluten from China was found to contain melamine, which is used in plastics, fertilizer and flame retardants. Melamine has no food value, but it can make food products appear more protein-rich.
A major fish feed distributor, Skretting Canada, announced a voluntary recall earlier last week, saying "a very low level of melamine" was found in a batch of its Bio-Oregon brand fish feed. Nelson said the feed is widely used in Alaska, which has 34 fish hatcheries.
Fish farms in Canada, Washington state and Oregon - which can raise fish to adult size - also were affected.
In Alaska the feed is starter food for young fish.
Among the hatcheries using it is Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association Inc., based in Sitka. General manager Pete Esquiro said the hatchery might have to continue using a bit of it in coming days.
The association is within days of releasing many of the chum salmon, Esquiro said. The feed hasn't appeared to do them any harm, he said.
"They look perfectly fine," he said.
The Department of Fish and Game and other state agencies will be testing hatchery fish for melamine contamination, according to Nelson. Hatchery operators plan their own tests, Esquiro said.
Information from: Anchorage Daily News, http://www.adn.com