Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Industrial Tour

Today I'll take you along on our tour of the Alyeska Fish Processing Plant, seen above. It is the oldest processing plant in Dutch Harbor, and the third largest. It pays best (over $10/hr., when minimum wage is $7+), so has very little worker turnover, and is not unionized.

We get to wear tall rubber boots so we can wade through the 4" deep disinfectant pools throughout the plant. You must also wear those really cute little blue mesh net hair covers that look like bowl covers. Our tour guide is a PhD in Marine Biology from Oregon who is also the local scout leader and mows the church lawn! Ready now?

The Pollock are brought to the plant in the holds of ships which contain 31 degree sea water to keep the fish cold. They are sucked from the hold of the ship with a giant vacuum tube, water and all. A machine actually cuts off the heads and tails, guts them, fillets them then sends them on to another small machine that takes off the skin. All automated.

The fish fillets then pass over a light table, as seen above, where they are inspected for any pieces of bones or impurities. If the defect is minor, they may be fixed by a specialist at another light table. The fillets are washed and packaged in one of two ways. Some are placed, not touching each other, alternating between layers of blue plastic in boxes which are then frozen. (Picture above) Many more are sent into a quick freezing machine that has air of -4 degrees which moves at 100 mph. It flash freezes the fillets, which emerge and are quickly dipped in a water bath. This gives them a glossy ice coating which prevents them dehydrating during shipping. They are then packed loose in pallet-sized boxes and shipped.

The fillets are the most valuable, but there is a lot of fish that isn't suitable for a fillet. This is ground extremely fine, washed twice, "wrung out" with a big press, and emerges as fish protein. It is what is used to make artificial crab, among other products. It is mixed with sugar and a bit of TSP so that the cells of the fish won't pop during freezing, then is packaged in plastic bags, placed in metal pans, and frozen by huge extremely cold pressure plates which the pans and fish go through. The surimi, as it is called, emerges stone hard, is boxed, and shipped.

Everything is used. The roe sacks are saved and sorted by color and size into as many as 26 grades. This is done by photographic computers. The skin is saved and run through a special machine (invented and patented by our guide--see picture) which turns it into collagen for pharmaceutical purposes. (Last year the plant made $5 million as a result of utilizing fish skins!) The bones are ground up for bone meal which is used for fertilizer.

The fish oil is extracted from the heads, tails, guts, etc. and the factory burns it as fuel because it is cheaper and less polluting than diesel and makes them more energy independent. The rest of the muck is processed into fish meal, which is totally odorless, and is used in aqua farming in Japan to feed to the eels.

Nothing else is left! Pollock is the life blood of the fishing industry in Dutch Harbor, in spite of the more glamorous crab season. Pollock pays the bills. The seasons run during January and February then again from June through August. Alyeska also processes crab and cod in season in different parts of the plant.

Hope you enjoyed our tour today. Remember the next time you eat fish how many people it took to get it from the sea to your table.

1 comment:

  1. Jan,
    I'm glad to know how things work. However, until now I have really enjoyed eating artificial crab. Don't know how it will be from now on. :)