Alaska crab shells are fueling an eco-revolution that will drive new income streams for fabrics to pharmaceuticals to water filters. And for the first time, it is happening in the US and not overseas.
The entrepreneurs at Tidal Vision in October made the leap from their labs in Juneau to a pilot plant outside of Seattle to test an earth-friendly method that extracts chitin, the structural element in the exoskeletons of shellfish and insects. Their first big run a few weeks ago was tested on a 60,000 pound batch of crab shells delivered by Trident Seafoods from St. Paul Island.
The end-product they are going for is chitosan, a fibrous polysaccharide which, among other things, can be woven into fabrics and textiles, and has no end of commercial and biomedical uses.
Chitosan can fetch from $10 to $30,000 a pound depending on quality and usages, and up to $150,000 a pound for pharmaceutical grades, said Craig Kasberg, former fisherman and now Tidal Vision’s Captain Executive Officer.
Chitosan has been produced commercially in China and India since the late 1950s by using chemicals and waste methods that would never pass the muster of US environmental regulators.
That’s all changed with Tidal Vision.
“We do not use harsh chemicals and we are able to recycle 89 percent of the chemicals we use. The other 11 percent reacts with everything else in the crab shell – the calcium, protein and lipids – and produces a fertilizer that several agriculture companies are doing trials with,” Kasberg said in a phone call from SafeCo Field, where Tidal Vision was claiming two awards.
“From the Environmental Protection Agency and the Washington Dept. of Ecology for Safer Manufacturing and Cleaner Products,” he explained.
Tidal Vision expects to process 100 million pounds of crab shells during its first year. Shortly after, it projects taking up to 200 million pounds of crab shells from Trident plants, and all shells from the Bering Sea crab fisheries by 2021.
“Which is huge considering that with some species they are losing 35 percent in the guts and the shells. So we’re able to cut that in half by processing the shells,” Kasberg said.
“I am a strong believer in 100 percent utilization of our resources and working with Tidal Vision has been fantastic,” said Joe Bundrant, Trident Seafoods CEO, in an email.
The small company’s long term goal is to build full scale chitin plants next to existing crab processing plants in Alaska, along with mobile plants for areas with smaller catches and shorter seasons.
More immediately, Kasberg said Tidal Vision is “vertically integrating into the textile, fiber and commercial filtration markets.”
The group’s new clothing line, ChitoSkin, has caught the attention of Grundens, and by next summer, Alaska salmon fishermen may be wearing rain gear that won’t mold or smell.
Kasberg said the company also is developing and testing a chitosan filtration system for a coal mining company in British Columbia.
“Chitosan reacts very quickly to toxins and bonds really fast. Instead of filling manmade lakes with effluent that is acidic and full of heavy metals, they could instead be pumping out pure drinking water,” Kasberg said. “That’s close to my heart with all the trans-boundary river issues in Southeast, and we really are passionate about accomplishing that.”
The state Boards of Fish and Game got a helpful earful about ways to trim their budget in the face of next year’s fiscal onslaught, and feedback is continuing online.
More than a dozen Alaskans shared ideas during a daylong listening session last week in Anchorage focused solely on cutting costs within the Boards’ annual meeting cycles.
“Just based on the normal board meeting schedules, we don’t even have enough at status quo in terms of a budget to meet their needs,” said Glenn Haight, Executive Director of Fish and Game Board Support, adding that the combined meeting costs vary each year, but are roughly $500,000.
One message was loud and clear at the Anchorage meeting: don’t cut the public out of the rule making process.
“We’re not at all interested in helping the Department diminish the public’s ability to participate in the regulatory process by supporting any cuts to the board,” said Gary Stevens on behalf of the Alaska Outdoor Council. “We have a hard time understanding why any of the cuts need to come out of the statutorily protected process of regulating fish and game.”
Another unpopular idea was extending beyond the current three-year regional meeting cycles, which would save $100,000 for board support tasks.
“Don’t move the three-year cycle to five-year cycles,” said Gary Cline of Dillingham. “I do agree that it is too long. Mainly because the decisions made at these meetings have such a huge impact on our Alaskan residents.”
Maintaining local board advisory committees also was supported. Haight said that includes travel expenses of $200,000 to $230,000 for members of 60 to 70 active committees.
Reducing the number of Fish and Game staff that attends board meetings also was suggested, and there has been much talk about reducing the number of regulatory proposals the boards address – upwards of 400 to 500 each year – or streamlining the process.
“I think that individuals should still be able to submit proposals,” she said. “I really believe that one voice is a strong voice. Because one voice could make a difference and I don’t want it to change where we don’t have that voice anymore,” Gayla Hoseth of Dillingham told KDLG.
The joint Fish and Game boards plan to meet again in January. Meanwhile, more feedback and ideas are encouraged at an online survey: http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=process.jointboard and https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/akboards.
The Alaska Historical Society is seeking sponsors and donors for its Alaska Historic Canneries Initiative.
“This all started because people are worried about the state of the old canneries around Alaska, and they are scared that so many are disappearing from the landscape. So we really want to do more to document these places and their stories,” said Anjuli Grantham, a public historian in Kodiak and director for the Initiative.
The Society is asking individuals, businesses, and communities to share photos, memories and stories from the canneries, salteries, processors, and herring plants that dotted Alaska’s coasts.
“The purpose is to document, preserve, and educate about the history of seafood processing in Alaska,” Grantham said, adding that only two canneries are listed on the national register of historic places in Alaska.
The AHS is offering grant money to help with the cause.
“It’s a really broad program,” she added. “It could be an oral history project; it could be money to buy lumber if you want to restore a portion of an old cannery building. It could go toward a film or gathering photographs for an archive. If the project has anything to do with the history of the fishing industry in Alaska, you are eligible to apply for funding.”
Deadline to apply is Jan. 1. See www.alaskahistoricalsociety.org.