Surimi may be boon to Oregon fish industry

July 14, 2010 13:12

A slow global economy hasn't significantly affected the market for surimi - the processed fish protein that is transformed into shellfish-flavored products - and seafood processors are pushing new products they say are healthy and delicious, reports with reference to Sustainable Business Oregon.

Those products: deep-fried surimi seafood. And their production could mean good news for Oregon seafood processors as Pacific mackerel and sardines emerge as candidates for creating them.

"To be eligible for a surimi resource, a particular species must be abundant, currently under-utilized, and be economically viable," said Jae Park, a global expert on surimi production who shares the latest in surimi research and processing through the Surimi School at the Oregon State University Seafood Laboratory in Astoria.

Much of the supply for surimi currently comes from Alaska pollock and Pacific whiting, Park said. But as allowable catch rates for those species have declined in recent years, Park and his colleagues have been testing other possibilities.

"Most recently, we've been experimenting with using fish that have colored flesh, which would open many new doors for surimi processors," Park said.

He suggests seafood processors in Oregon would be well positioned for new business if dark-flesh surimi continues to take hold. Park said as many as five Oregon seafood processors have been involved in surimi production in the past, but only one - Trident Seafoods Corp. in Newport - is currently producing surimi. That could change, he said, as processors interested in creating deep-fried surimi seafood could draw resources from available Pacific mackerel and sardines.

Park contends surimi is more sustainable than other fish products because it can be made with seafood byproducts, head and gutted fish, as well as whole fish and fillets. The processed protein that results is considered a major international commodity, with its annual production of more than 500,000 tons valued at $2.2 billion.

Later this month at the Surimi Industry Forum in Japan - an annual surimi symposium that draws interest from around the globe - Park said participants will also hear about the health benefits of fried surimi.

It contains only 2 percent to 3 percent fat, as compared to other fried foods, he said, where fried fish fillets typically contain about 12 to 15 percent fat, fried chicken 15 to 16 percent fat, and french fries about 18 percent fat.

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