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Alaska Fish Factor: Eco-entrepreneurs Turning Crab Shells into New Products

27 June 2016
 Alaska Fish Factor: Laine Welch Laine Welch has been covering news of Alaska’s seafood industry for print and broadcast since 1988. She also has worked ‘behind the counter’ in wholesale and retail seafood businesses in Alaska and Cape Cod, MA. Laine lives in Kodiak, Alaska. www.alaskafishradio.com

msfish@alaskan.com
 
 

US - Turning crab shells into every day products is becoming a reality for the Tidal Vision team of eco-entrepreneurs from Juneau.

The products are derived from chitin in the crab shells, the second most abundant biopolymer on the planet after cellulose. Chitin is found in fungi, plankton and the exoskeletons of insects and crustaceans and adds up to about 100 billion tons every year.

The miracle substance can be spun into fabrics, filters, bio-plastics, bandages, stitches, even car coatings with self-healing scratches. Since the 1950s, chitin has only been produced in China and India, where the use and disposal of harsh extraction chemicals is less restrictive. Now, Tidal Vision’s proprietary method of obtaining chitin from crab shells in a closed loop, chemical-free method is a world first, making them the only maker of chitin-based products in the USA.

As the team builds up stockpiles of chitin from Alaska crab shells and hones their equipment and methods at a pilot plant near Seattle, a first product to hit the market is Tidal Grow.

“It’s an organic nitrogen source with 11 essential plant nutrients, it can be a pH adjuster for soil and reduce the need for other soil amendments, and it’s loaded with calcium,” explained Craig Kasberg, Tidal Vision’s “Captain” Executive Officer.

Companies in Washington also are buying bags of dried chitin flakes to filter water going into Puget Sound.

“Sometimes it is built into filters, but for storm water systems it’s used as a flocculent, meaning it’s mixed in with the water and bonds to toxic particles throughout the mixing process,” Kasberg said.
In its liquid form, Alaska chitosan is serving another customer – wines.

“The wine industry uses the same process to clarify it and settle out some of the solid particles in the wine as a finishing agent. It’s the same concept,” Kasberg explained.

Tidal Vision also has teamed with Floral Soil Solutions to make bio-based flower foams.

“They make an all-natural foam for florists that is used in Whole Foods across the country and by several other big flower outlets to replace the petroleum-based screen foam that’s been the industry standard for about 40 years,” he said.

Also in the offing: Tidal Scrub – a chitin-based kitchen sponge that naturally kills bacteria.

“There is a common saying that there’s more bacteria in your kitchen sink than in your toilet. That grabs quite a few people’s attention as an example of how chitin can really make a difference in day to day life,” Kasberg added.

At the same time, Tidal Vision is perfecting its bacteria-killing ChitoSkin fabrics and working with Grundens’ product development team.

The ultimate goal, Kasberg said, is to bring Tidal Vison’s entire operation to Alaska within two years, including mobile plants that can extract chitin from crab shells in remote locations. Prices for chitin can range from $10 to $30,000 a pound, up to $150,000 a pound for pharmaceutical grades.

Chompin’ on Chinooks - Killer whales eat 375 pounds of food per day – and most of that is salmon. That's the equivalent of salmon each day to what 200 Americans eat for a year, according to a write up in Science.

The determination about diets was made using an analysis of fish DNA in killer whale poop.

Estimating the makeup of a killer whale’s diet helps scientists understand interactions between predators and prey, because observing what they eat directly is difficult. In this study, the authors used genetic analysis of fecal material collected in the whales’ summer range in the Salish Sea in the Pacific Northwest. They genetically sequenced 175 fecal samples collected from May to September from 2006-2011, which resulted in nearly five million individual sequences.

The researchers found that salmon made up nearly 98 percent of the total sequences, which they concluded is the bulk of a killer whale’s diet. Non-salmon fish were rarely observed.

Of the five salmon species, Chinook salmon made up 80 percent of the sequences, followed by 15 percent coho salmon. They found that early in the summer their diet was dominated by Chinook salmon and coho salmon was greater than 40 percent in the late summer.

Billions in the Bay – This summer at Bristol Bay the two billionth sockeye salmon will be landed in the 133rd year of the fishery’s history. That adds up to about 12 billion pounds of sockeye, according to fishery historian Bob King.

It took 95 years for Bristol Bay to produce its first billion salmon, a milestone set on June 28, 1975 in the Nushagak River. The second billion will occur 38 years later and the three billionth sockeye salmon should be taken in 2054.

Fishermen’s Almanac - Highlighting the life and skills of fishermen is the theme of the Young Fishermen’s Almanac being compiled by the Alaska Marine Conservation Council and the Alaska Young Fishermen’s Network, and submissions are being sought for the first edition.

“This is a book length publication that wwill feature stories, art and a wide variety of other information that is reflective of Alaska’s fishing traditions,” said Hannah Heimbuch, AMCC’s Community Fisheries Organizer, adding that the idea came from the Young Farmer’s Almanac developed by the Greenhorns in the lower 48.

“It will have a really wide variety of information - short stories, poetry, photography and other visual art. It also would be fun to have fishermen’s jokes, top ten lists, gear hacks, how to’s and favorite recipes,” Heimbuch said.

The groups have reached out to the Young Fishermen’s Network to find a diverse group of men and women to help steer the project, but anyone is encouraged to share their experiences and knowledge.

“Whatever people want to share is great,” she said. “All different kinds of artwork is welcome, or if people want to tell a joke or describe their worst or best days of fishing. The hope is that anybody could open to any page and find something interesting or quirky or funny that would be a good addition to their day.”

Submit pieces to almanac@akmarine.org

This material is protected by copyright. For information on reprinting, contact msfish@alaskan.com

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