Monday, November 28, 2016

Squeezing more from a fish carcass just makes "cents"

Making high end fertilizers and other products from seafood waste in Oregon


After the fish filleters and crab shakers in Pacific Seafood's processing plants across Oregon and Washington have successfully separated the delicate and delicious meat from the 'wasted' bony carcasses of myriad commercial sea creatures, its BioOregon plant turns the waste into a highly sought after fertilizer. 

"Basically they've been rendering carcasses and fish waste since the 1940's," said Jerry Boisvert, a salesperson for BioOregon, the processing plant in Warrenton, Oregon, that turns seafood waste directly into fertilizer as well as other nutrients and oils that end up in everything from pet foods to cosmetics. 

The most popular product is a fish meal fertilizer rendered from the most "premium waste," meat and bone that contains 75% protein by weight. The demand, said Boisvert, has grown due to the rise in organic farming, and so has the price, from under a dollar per pound just a few years ago, to $1.78 a pound today. 

"That's our money maker. That's where we make hay," Boisvert said. Plus, he says, "It was just a great opportunity for some of these by products to go into the soil."

The 'upcycling' processes are strictly regulated by both the EPA and DEQ. Some processors use acids to sterilize the waste and stop it from stinking, but BioOregon has invested in drying the material to achieve the same results and keeps the product organic. That can be pretty expensive though, so BioOregon starts by pressing the waste to first remove as much water as possible. 

The regulations create a clean, safe and stable product; and even the discharge air goes through scrubbers, said Boisvert. A lot of the shell proteins end up in pet food, and because pets eat the same food over and over, the standard for purity is high (even though the products are not suitable for human consumption).

"You better take care of little Foo-Foo just as you take care of little Sally or Joe," Boisvert explained, adding that the major pet food suppliers are always looking for source ingredients.

BioOregon has consistently increased the amount of waste it turns into useable and profitable products over the years. A new dryer was added five years ago, and the company is now looking at ways to reclaim soluble protein from "stick water" that gets discharged into the Columbia River. 

"Very little product gets wasted anymore or goes to landfills," Boisvert said. "If you're paying to get rid of them as opposed to turning them into money, it can make or break you. You can pay to get rid of them, or turn them into money."

Before BioOregon had the equipment to dry the shrimp shells (a million dollar investment) they had to pay to ship them to Chehalis and Boardman, and lyme had to be dumped on the truck loads to keep the odor down. It got expensive and the product really was wasted. No more.

Today, the amount of reclaimed and upcycled product that BioOregon produces each year is staggering. Around 41 million pounds of waste material will pass through the plant each year. Approximately 20 million pounds of that comes from whiting, a bottom fish used to produce a variety of seafood products like sirimi, or "imitation crab" as it is sometimes known. 

Two million pounds of high quality fish meal will be produced. Forty to 60 thousand pounds of reclaimed fish oil will go to farmer's fields and into animal diets. High end fertilizer companies like Down to Earth buy processed products from BioOregon for their own formulations. Nestle buys 500,000 pounds of processed crab and shrimp products for pet foods. 

One of the best customers, said Boisvert, was a pharmaceutical company that used nutrients produced at BioOregon to feed bacteria. He said they were "growing bugs to recover something that was needed in medicines."

But the premium product, said Boisvert, remains to be the high quality fish meal that fetches a price twice that of equivalent chemical fertilizers. Even the price of lower quality crab and shrimp meal has grown due to the demands of the growing organic food industry. Eight years ago, crab meal was fetching 8 cents a pound, now it's at 40 cents a pound.

And even though BioOregon is an industry leader when it comes to reclaiming and upcycling seafood byproduct waste, Boivert said more can be done.

"There's countries that do a better job than we do in the States," Boisvert said. One example is Iceland, where, "in terms of utilizing more creatively their waste products to the point where there are no waste products at all."

That would certainly please Boisvert's boss, plant manager Dan Humphrey's.

"You cant say the word waste in front of him, his whole approach is to change people's attitude about it," Boisvert said. "It's a feather in your cap to say that everything you harvest is one —sustainable, but also utilized."

- Information courtesy of Jerry Boisvert and BioOregon; Interview and article by David Plechl

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