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A lot more than salmon is processed by Seattle's diversified seafood sector.

Seattle is promoted as the "Emerald City" to tourists, but the cosmopolitan King County jewel might better be described as "Mother of Pearl" by those in the area's bustling seafood industry. Indeed, its top ten fishery companies generate over $2 billion in annual revenues. Fueled with bountiful landings of raw materials from Alaska, packers along the Puget Sound have long surpassed their cross-country New Bedford, Mass., counterparts in total tonnage processed.

Quick Frozen Foods International recently toured greater Seattle's leading factories and supplier facilities in conjunction with the Food Marketing Institute's (FMI) Seafood Merchandising Conference. A brief review of some of the frozen fish concerns visited follows.

UniSea Foods

Surimi manufacturing is the name of the game at UniSea Foods, Inc., the Redmond, Wash.-based unit of Nippon Suisan North America. It typically runs two 10-hour shifts per day, using the four-hour interval to disassemble equipment for cleaning and maintenance. New President Dennis Delaye was on hand to greet the FMI delegation in advance of its inspection of the state-of-the-art plant.

Frozen pollock blocks sourced from the company's Dutch Harbor, Alaska, facility are tempered to 26 [degrees] F before the surimi (or kamoboko) making process begins. Once the fish paste congeals and is formed in plastic film, the covering is removed and Yanaigiya silent cutters guillotine the conveyed raw material into bite-size pieces.

The production run witnessed by QFFI saw 2.5-pound Nissui brand surimi being turned out for the Japanese market. But most retail packs are sold in the USA, while the majority of blocks go overseas. After passing through a horizontal vacuum machine, seals are handchecked before boxes are forwarded to metal detectors and scales for weighing. They then go through a pasteurization process which brings the product's internal temperature up to 185 [degrees] F This step guarantees a 60-day shelf life in chilled cabinets. A 60-minute freezing process follows before the finished product goes into one of two on-premise coldstores that can accommodate up to 25 million pounds.

UniSea says it is one of the few surimi processors in North America that makes its own crab paste. A Goring Kerr deboning machine is employed to efficiently separate crab meat from shells.

It is not only surimi that is packed at the Redmond site. Crab is processed to client specifications. On the day of QFFI's tour, 2 1/2-pound pound bags of Meridian Alaskan Snow Crab in 3616 cartons, and Pride of Alaska Legs and Claws were on the line.

American Seafoods

Anchored at downtown Seattle's waterfront docks were three large factory trawlers operated by American Seafoods Co. Each is capable of producing surimi, shatter pack fillets, fillet blocks, pollock roe and fishmeal. Having already met established quotas, they were not likely to be going fishing again until January.

Pride of the fleet is the 87 x 16.5 meter, twin-engine FIT American Triumph that boasts 8,000 horse power. It was rebuilt in 1990 at Langsten Slip & Batbyggeri A/S in Tomrefjord, Norway, to a class 1A1 stern trawler specifically designed to operate in rough waters of the North Pacific and Aleutian islands.

Rick Muir, director of sales, pointed out that the ship, which is appointed with the most advanced fish finding and navigational equipment available, can carry up to 1,400 tons of frozen products, 350 tons of fishmeal and 300 tons of fish oil. Two factory decks are featured to accommodate the large processing potential of its sophisticated filleting, surimi grading and packing facilities.

"She can stay out at sea for a month at a time, but is so efficient that the maximum catch is usually made within a 20-day period," said Muir. "Our high-tech fish finding and electronics system can spot schools 2,000 meters off. And sonar enables us to actually graphically |see' them go into the nets. So the bottom line is that we catch fish faster and more efficiently than anybody else on the water."

The American Triumph's crew typically ranges from a compliment of 90 to 100 hands, with two pilots in the wheelhouse. Factory personnel work in shifts of six hours on/six hours off. Surimi is minced and washed three times to obtain the right texture and blandness that will readily take on flavors during later further processing. Approximately 65% of the finished blocks go to customers in Japan, and 15% to Korea, with the remainder distributed in the USA and elsewhere.

Arctic Alaska

Arctic Alaska Fisheries Corp., now part of Tyson Foods, has its only continental USA land-based factory operations at Fisherman's Terminal Pier 91. Less than a year old, the ultra-modern, 96,000-square-foot USDC-monitored reprocessing plant is primarily engaged in turning out foodservice and institutional packs of Arctic Ice brand and private label Alaskan pollock and cod products.

"Eight-ounce sizes are the most popular items we produce, while crunchy pollock nuggets are gaining nicely," Bill McKee told QFFI. The director of national accounts pointed out that all raw materials come into the plant in either frozen shatter packs or IQF form. Sourcing is directly from the company's 34-vessel fleet, which fishes the Bering Sea and other waters.

The super-hygienic production facility is constantly pumped with chilled air which is circulated via an overhead wind sock. Battered and breaded fish portions are cooked at 380 [degrees] F in an insulated Stein conveyor oven. After that they are deep frozen at - 40 [degrees] to - 50 [degrees] F in a Frigoscandia spiral freezer.

Also housed in the factory is a steaking unit for processing halibut, salmon, albacore, yellowfin tuna, swordfish and mahi-mahi.

The company processes some 50 million pounds of crab annually, of which about 70% is opilio. A major customer for single leg portions is General Mills' Red Lobster restaurant chain. Custom packing is carried out for Meridian Products, which generally procures its own raw materials from private suppliers, including the Russians.

Arctic Alaska runs a crab processing line just a short walk away from its new plant. Bulk boxes holding 55 to 60 pounds of clusters are toted to skilled workers who cut them down to size to fill special orders.

While the Seattle facility is gearing up, Arctic Alaska also has a Pacific whiting (hake) plant in British Columbia, plus joint venture operations in Hawaii and the Philippines. However, it remains by far an at-sea catcher-processor of Alaskan cod, pollock, flatfish and shellfish.

Aqua Star et al.

Another Pier 91 resident is Independent Packers Corp. (IPC) its temperature-controlled, custom processing plant is home to at least six different manufacturing and importing concerns that share production facilities under a single roof. Among them are Aqua Star, Odyssey Enterprises, Nova Fisheries and Clouston Foods Pacific, Ltd.

Christopher Riordana, vice president, underscored the advantage tenants enjoy in not having to tie up capital in bricks and mortar. "Each company can invest in vessels, shore plants and farms more strategically to secure the best resources without an unnecessary obligation to own facilities outright, any one of which may be idle at times due to seasonal fishing or farming. Using one or more cooperatives means that if one facility or the fisheries corresponding to it do not meet expectations, a company can shift to best accommodate the needs of customers."

Aqua Star imports full containers of seafood into Seattle (as many as 30 per month of black tiger shrimp alone) for reprocessing and packaging at IPC premises. "All the raw material is frozen at source in countries of origin," said Shauna L. Zuger, director of marketing. "It comes in frozen and stays that way. We don't defrost and refreeze."

The BP Nutrition subsidiary inventories hundreds of thousands of pounds of various seafoods nearby for custom-processing. "We can pack and ship special orders within 48 hours of getting the specification," said Zuger.

The marketing director unveiled a new one-pound pack of Chinese scallops for the retail trade. The scannable, tamper-proof boxes contain double-lined polybags. Also available are 10- and 20-pound crab packs.

The neighboring Odyssey Enterprises operation specializes in breaking down clusters of Alaskan golden king, snow and dungeness crabs into legs, claws and butterfly splits for two-pound box presentations. The packs come complete with recipes and point-of-sale information.

Clouston's corner was busy making window and down-the middle crab cuts for foodservice clients. "This enables restaurant customers to more easily get to the meat," said Jan Onarheim.

Other products turned out by Clouston include opilio snap-and-eat crab legs, single cuts, dungeness clusters, king salmon fillets, Mirabel label shrimp and Chinese scallops.

At Nova Fisheries, Bob Simon explained that his company was getting away from commodities in favor of supplying restaurants such value-added fare as halibut steaks, pink salmon fillets, vacuum-packed tuna, frozen-at-sea scallops and swordfish, plus cod and swordfish fillet portions.
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Title Annotation:Seattle, Washington
Publication:Quick Frozen Foods International
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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