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Surimi Forum Draws Unalaska Processors

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Seafood processing industry leaders are gathering for the 16th annual Surimi Forum this week in Oregon.

Mark Johahnson, the president of Westward Seafoods, will be there to make a presentation about surimi supply and it's global market. Surimi is one of Dutch Harbor processing companies' main products.

"Our business at Westward and Alyeska plants there in Dutch Harbor is just to make, basically, blocks of fish paste," Johahnson explained Tuesday. "We take the fish into the plant and mix it with some water, and there's some sugar or sweetener additive to bind it together like in a cake. And then we put it into 22-pound blocks. And then our customers take that and make it into crab sticks, or imitation crab, or other things."

At the forum, Johahnson said he will talk about how for the past five years, the total allowable catch (TAC) for Alaska pollock has steadily increased to 1.625 million tons. Unalaska's fishermen are catching more and more fish, but the fish are smaller.

"It's more cost effective to make surimi out of small fish. The fish for some reason - maybe it's just a natural cycle, maybe it's the warmth of the water or what have you - but as of B season of last year and A season of this year, the pollock that we're catching in Alaska - and most of our competitors are in the same situation - have been smaller than in previous seasons."

That's making surimi production more attractive.

"The size of the fish is one thing and then, the demand for surimi is also better than for fillet right now," Johahnson said. "For our whole industry, it will be like a record amount of surimi being processed this year. I think there is a record set last year as well. So surimi is predominant right now because the fillet market in Europe is kind-of depressed because of the economic circumstances over there."

Johahnson says that besides making his presentation on the supply side of surimi, he's looking forward to seeing and tasting new products made from it during a surimi school session.

UniSea and Trident Seafoods also are sponsors of the one-day forum.

Greta Mart worked for KUCB in 2015 and 2016.