Pollock skins for Fido!

Like many pet owners, you may toss your dog tidbits from your plate – a fatty piece of meat here, a bit of fish skin there. Well, a couple of University of Alaska Fairbanks researchers are experimenting with turning some of Alaska’s finest scraps into dog treats.

Chris Sannito with a block of pollock skins. Kayla Desroches/KMXT
Chris Sannito with a block of pollock skins. Kayla Desroches/KMXT

They’ve received almost $94,000 of funding from the Pollock Conservation Cooperative Research Center for their experiments, and will work with pollock, a mild white fish.

Chris Sannito uses a machine to grind up gelatinous chunks of pollock skin. This is one of the steps in testing antioxidants that will keep the dog treats from rotting. If all goes well, by this summer, the experimenters will have a marketable product with a long shelf-life and an irresistible flavor.

Sannito says they haven’t conducted taste tests, but the concoction already has a fan.

“My dog’s ears will just perk up when I come home. He knows I have them in my pocket.”

He thinks other dogs will be just as enthusiastic. Right now, he and the project manager are more concerned with creating a product that lasts. They keep the pollock skins in a walk-in freezer. Sannito says they’re the bits that processors usually toss.

“So, McDonald’s would take the meat and this is the waste from that. This is just what’s left over, and this would just go in the garbage, but for this experiment, they’ve collected this for us. A lot of the brown meat is still left on the skin, and it’s mainly collagen protein, so it’s a very easily digestible protein, but there is quite a bit of meat still on there.”

He’s grinding down three trays of pollock skins. One is a control and the others will test two rosemary-based antioxidants.

One is Herbalox, which is geared towards humans, and the other is Naturox, which is used for pets. Sannito says each mixture also contains 10 percent all-purpose flour as a binder. After pressing the mixtures into trays, he’ll freeze them, cut them into sticks the next day, and then dry them until they’re shelf-stable.

He says they’re also testing pet treats made from whole pollock skins. About six months ago, they cut frozen blocks of the skins into thin shingles using a band saw, dipped them into the antioxidants, and then dried them.

Sannito takes the results of that round of experiments out of an environmental chamber.

The machine looks like a giant refrigerator, and Sannito says it’s used for accelerated shelf life studies. Right now, it’s set at 30 degrees centigrade or 86 degrees fahrenheit.

Sannito cuts the plastic containers open to see the treats inside.

“They do look a little different than when I first started I think. See? I mean, just by smelling. You smelled the fresh skins. And then if you smell that, that’s oxidized quite a bit. Can you tell? Smells like kind of bad fish, but I think a dog will love it still.”

Sannito says they just sent out samples of that experiment for analysis.

As far as predictions go on which pollock form and antioxidant treatment might work best, he’s still undecided.

“The ground one is probably a better utilization because, when we band saw, we’re wasting about 15 percent in saw dust, but the ground one may open it more up to oxidation, so we’ll just have to see what happens.”

Sannito says the project manager will travel to Anchorage to present their progress in late January, and the entire set of experiments should be done in June.