By Hal Bernton
Technology to stun cod as they are brought out of the water could improve the fish’s last moments as well as its taste and shelf life, says CEO Kenny Down.
Kenny Down grew up in Ballard, and went to sea while still a teenager. Working for years aboard Bering Sea longliners, he never thought much about the stress that fish might go through as they were unhooked and then – while still conscious — cut open and bled.
Now, the 52-year-old Down thinks about it a lot as chief executive of Blue North Fisheries, a Seattle-based company that on Monday will be launching a “humane harvest initiative” at the industry’s annual Seafood Expo in Boston.
By stunning the cod with an electrical charge before they are processed, Blue North wants to pioneer a kinder, gentler and hopefully better-tasting harvest.
“It t is hard not to recognize that when these fish are out of the water, it is uncomfortable for them,” Down said. “We recognize that the fish we harvest are sentient beings, and they deserve humane, conscientious treatment.”
So along with free-range chickens and grass-fed beef, Down is hoping consumers will one day seek out what Blue North will market as “humanely harvested, wild Alaska, line-caught cod.”
Blue North has already experimented aboard one of its vessel with an initial pneumatic stun system adapted from the salmon farming industry. It is now developing a more sophisticated system that will knock out the cod even before they are taken off the hooks.
The cod caught by Blue North will still have to cope with getting hooked and brought to the surface, but Down says the fish suffer the most as they are brought on board. He believes knocking them out as soon as they come out of the water will reduce stress and cut down on the release of hormones such as cortisol and the production of lactic acid. The end result should be better fillets that have longer shelf life, he says.
Blue North is working to document the benefits of the new stun systems with Mahmoudreza Ovissipour, a research associate at Washington State University’s School of Food Science. Ovissipour previously analyzed the effects of a stun system from farm-reared sturgeon that produce caviar, and he is now analyzing samples of Blue North cod.
Blue North, which has four vessels and is building a fifth, is one of the largest companies working off Alaska with freezer longliners. Those vessels set thousands of baited hooks along the sea bottom, and this year are expected to catch more than 41 million pounds of cod.
At the Boston Seafood conference on Monday, Blue North will serve samples of it cods, and has organized a panel discussion about the humane harvest initiative that will include Ovissipour.