Surimi may be boon to Oregon fish industry

Pacific sardine may be tapped for surimi.

A slow global economy hasn't significantly affected the market for surimi — the processed fish protein that is transformed into shellfish-flavored products — and seafood processors are pushing new products they say are healthy and delicious.

Those products: deep-fried surimi seafood. And their production could mean good news for Oregon seafood processors as Pacific mackerel and sardines emerge as candidates for creating them.

"To be eligible for a surimi resource, a particular species must be abundant, currently under-utilized, and be economically viable," said Jae Park, a global expert on surimi production who shares the latest in surimi research and processing through the Surimi School at the Oregon State University Seafood Laboratory in Astoria.

Much of the supply for surimi currently comes from Alaska pollock and Pacific whiting, Park said. But as allowable catch rates for those species have declined in recent years, Park and his colleagues have been testing other possibilities.

"Most recently, we've been experimenting with using fish that have colored flesh, which would open many new doors for surimi processors," Park said.

He suggests seafood processors in Oregon would be well positioned for new business if dark-flesh surimi continues to take hold. Park said as many as five Oregon seafood processors have been involved in surimi production in the past, but only one — Trident Seafoods Corp. in Newport — is currently producing surimi. That could change, he said, as processors interested in creating deep-fried surimi seafood could draw resources from available Pacific mackerel and sardines.

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Lee van der Voo, lvdvoo*at*gmail.com, is a freelance writer for Sustainable Business Oregon.

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