Friday, April 20, 2018

Kamaboko: Taking Fake Crab to Another Level

I just read an article about surimi and how the guy who established it in the US (trying to make a “hot dog of the sea” apparently) is trying to make its production better. Read it here.

I thought I was pretty knowledgeable about surimi since I was an observer in a plant that produced it. (Which was almost 10 years ago.) But I was wrong!

I knew that surimi is made from ground up pollock and other fishes. It’s often died to look like crab legs and used in California rolls for people who want sushi but don’t want raw fish but somehow logs of pulverized steamed fish are OK.

^Not real crab, y'all

What I didn’t know is that it has another name: kamaboko. And it is had been around for centuries! It was eaten by samurai and nobility – there’s even a Kamaboko Museum dedicated to “Artisinal Samurai Seafood”.

What’s more fun is that it is colorful and, dare I say it, CUTE! Just check these out:

I was sort of already familiar with these spirally numbers 

But look at these ramen bowl additions! 

 And ^this^ little Rilakkuma-themed meal from...
 ... ^these^ loaves of steamed fish paste!

 So. Many. Designs!

You can take classes on how to make these awesome treats at the Kamaboko Museum, too!

You guys, I kind of fell down the kamaboko rabbit hole with this. There are videos you can watch on how to shape your rolls into flowers and bunnies. I broke my blog-writing hiatus simply because I needed to share this fish art with you all! And while the surimi dude that sent me on this Pinterest-image-searching bonanza works on reducing food waste during production, I'd lobby hard for also increasing cuteness in design.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Oh snow!

The snow crab population in the eastern Bering Sea is experiencing a decline which affected the 2016/2017 fishery, which I reported here. That fishery is just now finishing up with the first boat loaded and headed home (shared by the Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers). How that fishery performed and how that population is affected will have cascading impacts on market prices, new snow crab products (like McDonald's snow crab sandwich), next year's population health, and next year's fishery catch limits.

That's the Alaska side. What about Canada's snow crab fishery? They're probably doing good, eh? I mean, they have this guy:

(source: New York Times)

Sadly, even Justin Trudeau can't help the snow crabs. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) just released their snow crab stock assessment which shows that the biomass of legal crab for the Newfoundland and Labrador fishery has declined by 80% since 2013.


You guys. That's so bad. As Darrell Mullowney of the DFO says, "It's not a good news story." Or as Keith Sullivan of the Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union says, "It's terrible, terrible news for people in the industry." Yeah man, terrible for the industry AND terrible for the crabs and their ecosystem. Remember, humans aren't the only ones who like to eat snow crabs. Atlantic cods do too, and they haven't really been living high on the hog anyway (what with its collapse in 1992).

Atlantic cod Gadus morhua (source: Joachim S. Müller)

So it seems that our Bering Sea opies aren't the only ones facing declines. Again, Mullowney commented on the global scale of depressed snow crab stocks, particularly in their southern most areas: "The magnitude of this in terms of socioeconomics I can't really quantify." We'll have to wait and see.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

This is testing my resolve, y'all

A while back I wrote a pretty honest blog about my feelings regarding lobster rolls. TL/DR: they're trash. Cut to last week when I saw this:

McDonald's is testing out a "snow crab sandwich" in San Francisco and I have SO MANY QUESTIONS!

1. YAY snow crab!

2. Wait, is it really snow crab Chionoecetes opilio? "Snow crab" could be Chionoecetes bairdi aka Tanner crab, or something else.

3. Is it 100% "snow crab" or a mix like those nasty, nasty lobster rolls?

4. Shoot, is this just another waste of good meat that should be happily dipped in garlic butter? Do I hold crab, even snow crab, to the same high standard of lobster? Because I love crab dip so much, do I really have room to judge a crab sandwich? (No. The answer is No.)

5. Opies and Tanners are having a rough time, population-wise, in the Bering Sea, with both stocks in decline and the Tanner fishery not even opened. If this sandwich does well, how will the demand of a fast food empire affect the snow crab market? Bering Sea opilio price-per-pound is already high (over $8.00 compared to last year's $5.90) because of the decline in population and subsequent decline in fishery production.

If you are in the Bay Area and are feeling adventurous, try out the new sandwich and let me know what you think!

Friday, October 7, 2016

Big Trouble in Little Bering Sea

Oh man, you guys. This is a doozy.

I posted a brief Tanner crab (Chionoecetes bairdi) update from Alaska Department of Fish and Game yesterday on Facebook. TL;DR - the Bering Sea fishery for bairdis is closed for the 2016/2017 season.

The bairdi fishery in the Bering Sea has had a rocky past with openings and closures fluctuating throughout the years, but it was starting to look good again even as recently as 2015! The fishery was closed from 1997 - 2004, open fully 2006 - 2009, closed again from 2010 - 2013, then open fully until 2015 with high catches and high vessel participation (112 vessels in the 2015/2016 season compared to 32 in 2013/2014).

from the 2016 crab SAFE data

You can read all about the fishery in the latest Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands stock assessment and fishery management report (in nerd lingo - the crab SAFE), which is put out by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. Here's a link to the Crab Plan Team with all their fun reports, and this link will send you to the current Council meeting (happening now) where you can find the 2016 crab SAFE in the Agenda. It's listed under "C. Major Issues/Final Action Items" as the first item.

OK, so that's bairdi, but you all know I really love me some opies. How are they doing?

Not good. ADF&G announced that Bering Sea snow crab will be open this year (October 15th, as usual) but with the lowest total allowable catch (TAC) in 45 years. The low TAC, at 21.57 million pounds, is  nearly HALF of what it was last year (40.57 million pounds)! Why? Because surveys of the crabs have shown a decline in the number of mature males out there (who we like to eat) AND mature females out there (who make the babies).

from the 2016 crab SAFE data

This low baby-makin' biomass means potentially fewer adults in the future. That's why management has to be so conservative to allow for the crabs to do their business and replenish the stock. But for the moment it also means low catches and A LOT less money for our crab fishermen, processors, and on down the line. The other thing fishermen have to worry about is any accidental retention of bairdis since that fishery is closed, making these crab-cousins prohibited.

opilio up top, bairdi on bottom

Good luck, crabs!

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Shrimp Publication!

Remember WAY back in the day when I shared these photos of shrimp embryos?

spot shrimp and coonstripe shrimp embryos

I was processing shrimp collected from different sites around Port Valdez for hydrocarbon analysis. Polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are simply compounds made up of hydrogen and carbon that occur in crude oil. They = not so good for human consumption, or for animals, or for nature in general (see the Exxon Valdex Oil Spill). So this project looked at whether or not shrimp collected near oil tanker operations were safe to eat. My role was properly dissecting the shrimp and separating them by body part - tails (the most-often eaten item), heads (sucked on - not my style), and eggs (oy, I'll get to this one). And now the results have been published! Woo!

pink shrimp embryos

Let's cut to the chase: the majority of everything was safe with the small exception of eggs! ... And here's where I get on my soapbox: we shouldn't be harvesting reproductive females in any fishery that we hope can be sustainable. The lobstermen on the East Coast know this and v-notch the tails of reproductive female lobsters before returning them so that (a) they have a chance to hatch those delicious babies and (b) even when they're not gravid (showing eggs on the underside of their tails), it's known that these gals can get the job done for future years of successful harvests. Long story short - you shouldn't be eating the potentially tainted shrimp eggs from Port Valdez anyway! (Honestly, most shrimp you buy in general are terrible [high bycatch in trawl shrimping, pollution from farmed shrimp, slavery in shrimp processing, etc.] so unless you or your friend are catching shrimp using pots, you should just avoid 'em.)

(Disclaimer: that's just my opinion, well thought out though it may be, and doesn't reflect the opinion of any organization for which I've done research.)

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Lobster rolls are a waste of time, money, and lobsters

I've said it before and I'll say it again: lobster rolls are a waste of stomach space. Why spend money on lobster that's drowned in mayonnaise and miscellaneous spices and thrown on a bun when you could have fresh boiled lobster with liquid gold aka melted butter? Isn't the point of eating lobster to enjoy the taste of lobster? If you want mayo on a bun there are so many better things to eat: BLTs for example! (PS, I feel the same way about lobster macaroni and cheese. Just, no.)

leave the lobster roll, take the fried clams
(does anyone else wish they were cannoli?)
(photo source: yelp)

Where is this rant coming from? Recently different groups have been cracking down on seafood fraud - the mislabeling of food as higher quality products. For example, an Oceana study found that 43% of salmon sold in restaurants and grocery stores from places like New York and Chicago were mislabeled, and the most common wrongful ID was calling farmed salmon "wild-caught". That's a HUGE no-no for this wild-caught Alaskan salmon-loving gal!

Where lobster rolls come in is that another study by Inside Edition showed that many restaurants selling lobster rolls, lobster ravioli, and other heavily-processed lobster dishes are actually serving cheap lobster substitutes like "langostino" (aka squat lobsters, which you may know are more closely related to crabs than true lobsters). Less egregious but equally shady is serving actual lobster cut with other things like whiting, a common name for several white-meat fish like pollock or hake.

In the investigation, one third of the tested "lobster" meat was mislabelled! And the thing is, most people probably couldn't tell because their "lobster" was smothered in mayo! So I don't feel too bad for people who were bamboozled, but I think it's wrong nonetheless. An interesting point that was raised during this investigation is that one restaurateur said they did nothing wrong with mixing fish in to their lobster roll: (A) some people just use a frozen pre-mixed melange of seafood, of which lobster makes up an unknown percentage, for their lobster rolls, and (B) mixing lobster with things like surimi (that fake crab meat made from ground up pollock) and selling it as "lobster salad" should just imply to you, the costumer, that you're getting more than what you're paying for (and by "more" I mean "less"). And I'm not really knocking surimi - I like California rolls as much as the next person, and I was an observer in a fish processing plant that made surimi, so I've seen it from start to finish!

Mmmm, I can still smell the ground pollock from here!

Anyway, do yourself a favor: next time you want lobster, just order the whole thing with a side of garlic butter, put on a bib, and enjoy pure crustaceany goodness!

this is how you do it! (shananana-na-nana)
(photo from Honestly Yum)

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Caution for California crab lovers

A nasty little algae has been blooming like crazy lately (thanks, global warming!) and it's having some pretty serious consequences for Dungeness-loving consumers in California. The diatom, Pseudo-nitzschia sp., produces domoic acid, and at the high productivity rate it's experiencing because of warmer ocean conditions, the domoic acid is startin' trouble. When consumed at high concentrations, domoic acid can cause seizures, comas, and death! Yikes! It also causes short-term memory loss, so when people (or animals) get it from eating shellfish, it's known as Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning. (Remember learning about Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning here?) The domoic acid bioaccumulates in filter feeders like clams, mussels, and crabs (!!!) who just want to munch on some phytoplankton.

"Lay off me, I'm starving!" - Metacarcinus magister (PC Brian Feulner)

Speaking of crabs, California has closed its recreational and commercial crab seasons for both Dungeness and rock crabs because of this domoic acid contamination! This closure not only affects consumers (in a good way, really, because DEATH), but also the fishermen themselves who rely on these crabs for their livelihood. So it's kinda a lose-lose situation at the moment: fishermen lose money and their ability to pay their bills-bills-bills, or consumers run the risk of short-term memory loss, paralysis, and death.

How realistic is this concern? Well, dead sea otters have been reported with domoic acid in their systems, several large whales have washed up dead and the toxic diatom is a suspect (PS, the dog in the 3rd picture is adorable!), and even this little sea lion pup was poisoned in utero:

little Danzig in recovery, lucky guy! (PC Paul Chinn, The Chronicle)

Cuteness aside, it's an issue that needs to be monitored, and all my dungie-loving people out there should remain cautious about where your crab were caught and how they were prepared!