Symphony of Seafood competition continues innovation

Salmon Sisters salmon leather tote bag. (Photo: Julie Decker.)

Would you eat salmon flavored ice cream or use salmon oil on your dog? A Southeast-based seafood competition aims to find out what innovations the Alaska seafood industry has when it comes to value-added products.

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The Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation’s Symphony of Seafood competition is nothing new. It’s been running for 24 years, but the products contestants enter every year are innovative.

“It’s a competition for new products made out of Alaska seafood,” Julie Decker said. Decker is the foundation’s executive director. “We have four categories. The first two categories are more of our traditional categories, retail and food service.”

There’s also a beyond the plate category which features products such as salmon-leather tote bags and pet oils. The beyond the egg category is for roe products.

“This year we have two products entered. One is called a bottarga. The full name is Bruce Gore coho salmon bottarga,” Decker explained. “It’s actually a dried salmon egg that’s shaved. It’s something you could add on top of a pasta dish. It’s really light and flavorful.”

But, what has to be the most interesting entry this year is candied salmon ice cream.

“It can be pretty polarizing. People either love it or they hate it,” Marc Wheeler, co-owner of Coppa ice cream shop, said. “So we’ve been trying to work on the possibility with more widespread appeal.”

Candied salmon ice cream (Photo: Marc Wheeler.)

Wheeler’s Juneau shop is no stranger to odd seafood ice creams. He’s even made a black cod flavor.

“So we want to use local ingredients. We make a spruce tip ice cream. We’ve even made devil’s club ice cream. Salmon is an obvious choice for a local ingredient,” Wheeler said.

The sockeye salmon is smoked, candied and folded into ice cream with a caramel ribbon.

Wheeler said he’s been working on perfecting his creation for a few years and added that it’s been logistical issues keeping him from entering the competition.

“My wife was saying ‘the fish guys, I think they have a hard time shipping fish around the country.’ Well, try shipping ice cream from Alaska, it’s not easy,” Wheeler noted.

Contestants like Wheeler compete against companies large and small, but it’s a 10-judge panel that will make the final call in Seattle on Jan. 25. Products are judged based on packaging, presentation and obviously taste, if it’s edible.

Winners of each category will go onto Seafood Expo North America in Boston where they can show off their product to the greater industry.

“We provide them with booth space. They get to showcase their product and sometimes they walk away from the event with new sales contracts in hand,” Decker said. “It’s a pretty valuable event to people.”

Decker added that the development of these products can be quite difficult, but said the value of what they’re doing spreads industry wide.

“It’s pushing the edge, increasing value, diversifying markets. If you’ve always put all your product into a certain market and guess what, there’s a trade embargo, you are pretty much out of luck,” Decker explained.  “Product and market diversification are really important for the long-term haul in the seafood industry.”

Winners of the competition will be announced in Juneau on Feb. 22. The grand-prize winner will have their air fare paid for.

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