Re-printed courtesy of KETCHIKAN DAILY NEWS
October 2010

Festival to tout area shellfish offerings

By SCOTT BOWLEN

Daily News Staff Writer

Ketchikan will be the epicenter of Alaska's shellfish industry in mid-October when growers, harvesters, marketers, educators, regulators and others from around the state are expected in town for a series of shellfish-related events.

Of particular interest to the general public will be the new Alaska Shellfish Festival.

Scheduled for the evening of Oct. 14 at the Ted Ferry Civic Center, the festival will feature Alaska shellfish in recipes prepared by chefs from Ketchikan restaurants.

A variety of shellfish industry participants and related organizations will be on hand to provide information about the presence, growth and opportunities of the Alaska industry - including here in southern Southeast Alaska.

"The idea behind it is a relatively inexpensive night for families to enjoy some of the locally grown shellfish here, and to make the local community aware of the fact that commercially harvested shellfish and mariculture shellfish have become an important part of the commercial fishing scene here in Ketchikan," said Phil Doherty, executive director of the Southeast Alaska Regional Dive Fisheries Association.

SARDFA, which represents the region's commercial harvest divers, is organizing the festival along with the Alaska Shellfish Growers Association and OceansAlaska Marine Science Center.

Members of the Alaska Shellfish Growers Association will be in Ketchikan for the group's first annual meeting in Southeast Alaska "since Wally Hickel was governor," according to association.

The group's two-day meeting will be Oct. 15-16 at the Cape Fox Lodge.

Another shellfish-related event will be the Sea Grant Alaska Marine Advisory Program's two-day workshop on technology and business training for shellfish farming in Alaska.

The Sea Grant workshop is set for Oct. 13-14, also at the Cape Fox Lodge.

Other entities anticipated to have representatives in Ketchikan for the shellfish events include the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Alaska Department of Natural Resources, and the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, according to the shellfish growers association.

"Those four days are going to be packed with things for the industry here," said Rodger Painter, executive director of the Alaska Shellfish Growers Association.

When most people hear "Alaska shellfish," their thoughts likely turn to the king and snow crab made famous by the "Deadliest Catch" television series.

But Alaska's shellfish industry includes several other commercially caught species, including shrimp and the Dungeness and Tanner crab.

Commercial harvesters also land sea cucumbers, geoduck clams, scallops and sea urchins.

The 2010-11 commercial dive harvest seasons for sea cucumbers, geoducks and sea urchins start this month in Southeast Alaska.

Last season, the sea cucumber and geoduck fisheries combined were worth more than $8 million to fishermen.

"It's not a huge fishery compared with the salmon fishery and some of the other fisheries, but it is starting to be an important part - especially of the wintertime fishery - here in Ketchikan and in Craig," Doherty said.

Shellfish mariculture is developing in Alaska, also.

At present, there are 67 licensed shellfish farms in Alaska - mostly in the Kachemak Bay, Prince William Sound and Southeast Alaska areas - with about 25 farms that regularly supply product, according to Sea Grant.

Mariculture species grown in Alaska include Pacific oysters, blue mussels, littleneck clams and scallops, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

There are several oyster farms on Prince of Wales Island, and Alaska's first delivery of farmed geoduck clams occurred in Ketchikan this past month.

Local interest in mariculture is expanding.

The Ketchikan-based OceansAlaska, for example, is working toward the construction of mariculture research and training facility. Also, the Native regional corporation Sealaska Corp. is involved in oyster farming joint ventures in Southeast Alaska and Yakutat.

The upcoming Alaska Shellfish Festival is a way to highlight the various aspects of the industry, according to David Mitchel, OceansAlaska general manager.

"The main idea is to draw attention to the industry - to the dive fisheries, to the opportunities in mariculture, to shellfish," he said.

While most people know about Dungeness crab, shrimp and oysters, few locals have tasted geoducks or sea cucumbers.

"Cukes," geoducks and the other above-named species will be on the menu for the festival, all of which will be supplied by Alaska harvesters, farmers and processors, according to the event organizers.

The featured dishes will be prepared by chefs from the local restaurants Annabelle's Famous Keg and Chowder House, The Narrows Inn and Restaurant, Jeremiah's and Cape Fox Lodge.

"This is going to be a chance to show the local community what products are out there and how they can be cooked," Doherty said.

The shellfish festival, which runs from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Oct. 14, also will feature several information booths, according to the organizers. They said the event isn't a profit-generating venture.

Proceeds are going to the Kayhi Lady Kings basketball team, with any remaining funds likely to become seed money for a similar event next year.

"Our objective was to give something back to the community," Painter said. "It's (an) opportunity to get some of these products out there, thank the community for their support, and celebrate this abundance all together."

For further information or tickets for the Alaska Shelfish Festival, contact Doherty, Mitchell or Painter.

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