FISH FACTOR: Bambino’s features Bristol Bay in latest offerings

  • Bambino’s Baby Food founder and 2015 Alaska Journal of Commerce Top Forty Under 40 member Zoi Maroudas gives the keynote address at the 2019 awards ceremony at the Hotel Captain Cook in Anchorage. A new partnership of the Bristol Bay Native Corp., salmon fishermen and Bambino’s is combining nutrition advice and Native traditions in the latest subscription box offerings. (Photo/Michael Dinneen/For the Journal)

Nutrition, Native ways and knowing where your fish comes from.

That multi-message forms the nexus of a new partnership of the Bristol Bay Native Corp., salmon fishermen and Bambino’s Baby Food of Anchorage.

Bambino’s launched the nation’s first subscription service with home delivery of frozen baby foods in 2015, and was the first to bring the frozen option to U.S. retail baby food aisles (devoid of seafood).

Wild Alaska seafood has always been front and center on the Bambino menu since the launch of its baby-sized, star-shaped Hali-Halibut portions, sockeye salmon bisque and fillets in 2015. Sockeye salmon teething strips are the newest addition. Those items became an instant hit and are shipped to customers in U.S. and in Canada.

Each outgoing box now contains recipes from the people of Bristol Bay, stories of how traditional foods are rooted in Alaskan culture and other information about the region provided by the new outreach network.

“We’re looking forward to partnering with Bambino’s and (Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association) to share the stories of why salmon is so crucial to our region and our shareholders,” said Jason Metrokin, president and CEO of Bristol Bay Native Corp. “Salmon is a fundamental part of our cultures and our values, from protecting the waters they spawn in to ensuring our shareholders are able to fill their freezers every year.”

“We want to ensure that people everywhere and of all ages not only reap the nutritional benefits of Bristol Bay sockeye salmon but are also aware of the origin and sustainability of the region,” said Lilani Dunn, marketing director of BBRSDA, operated and funded by the fleet of nearly 1,800 driftnet fishermen by a 1 percent tax on their catches.

“Bambino’s has really built up her business and her brand and it was no secret that her sockeye product was performing really well. And we saw a huge opportunity to tell our stories focusing on the Native families and culture of Bristol Bay and for ourselves in the marketing program,” Dunn said. “I feel very passionate, along with our partners, about the nutritional benefits of sockeye salmon, especially in young infants and toddlers.”

“The beautiful nature of all of this is that we all care about our environment and the health and wellness of our families, and we all want to know where our food comes from,” said Bambino’s founder and CEO Zoi Maroudas.

“It just brings a lot of depth to the Bristol Bay region to have the synergy between BBNC and ourselves and to work with an Alaska company,” added BBRSDA’s Dunn. “It’s definitely something special and I’m really excited for it.”

Bambino’s was selected as Alaska Manufacturer of the Year in 2018. All of its products are produced in Anchorage and can be found at Carrs/Safeway and other grocers throughout Southcentral Alaska and on Amazon.

Good news for Gulf sea creatures

Results from the most detailed, long-term cruise by researchers at the University of Alaska Fairbanks showed the largest concentrations of phytoplankton ever seen in nearly 25 years of sampling in a vast portion of the Gulf of Alaska.

Phytoplankton (microalgae) is the base of marine food webs and the massive bloom was spotted in May through September along the Seward Line, a transect of survey stations that begins at the mouth of Resurrection Bay and continues south to the outer edge of the continental shelf.

A funding boost from the National Science Foundation added additional lines from the Copper River to beyond Middleton Island, and from Kodiak’s Albatross Bank to offshore waters.

The researchers use chlorophyll, the green pigment found in plants, as an indicator of phytoplankton abundance, explained Russ Hopcroft, professor and Chair of the Department of Oceanography at UAF’s College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences.

“It is the peak production in this system that the whole biology of the Gulf kind of cascades off of, that big infusion of energy and matter into it,” Hopcroft said. “Normally the shelf kind of lights up in terms of algal concentration briefly and sporadically. But this past year, the whole shelf was lit up with high chlorophyll for several weeks continuously, which means that there should have been lots of food available for the things that feed upon the plankton, the fish that feed upon that and then the bigger fish, marine mammals and seabirds that use them. We’ve never seen this kind of concentration of the phytoplankton in the system.”

“In the Gulf, because it’s such a seasonal environment, several of the main species rely on this bloom to grow rapidly and store fat up in their bodies, just like bears do. And then they descend deep in the ocean to wait for the following spring to start their life cycle when they lay eggs. And those babies swim up toward the surface and start the whole process over again.”

Alaska’s cooler weather this spring and summer can lead to a prolonged bloom, and extra rain provides fresh water at the ocean surface that helps phytoplankton remain closer to the light and build up higher concentrations.

Hopcroft said this year “looks like it should translate to a lot of energy into the system” and hopefully allow a few things to bounce back that were impacted by the extreme marine heatwave several years ago that caused, for example, Gulf cod stocks to collapse.

“I think our expectation would be that the success of animals released into the Gulf system this year will be higher than what we’ve seen during some of these warmer periods,” he said. “One would hope that we would see that translate into recruitment of various types of fisheries in the next couple of years.”

Fake fish update

Long John Silver’s is the first major national seafood chain to put plant-based seafood analogs on its menu, and calls it the “next big wave” after seeing the success of plant-based burgers and chicken. Analogs are manufactured substances that are used in place of the real thing.

Last month the company, operator of over 700 restaurants in the U.S., announced a partnership with Good Catch to test its plant-based Breaded Fish-Free Fillet and Breaded Crab-Free Cake at restaurants in California and Georgia.

“Our plant-based options are slightly more expensive than the crab cakes and sustainably sourced wild-caught cod, pollock, and salmon that make up our core menu options,” LJS Chief Marketer Stephanie Mattingly told SeafoodSource, adding that the plant-based seafood market is projected to grow $1.3 billion over the next decade.

Whole Foods Market, owned by Amazon, said that nearly half of U.S. consumers are looking for plant-based products, and fish alternatives are on its first ever list of trend predictions.

One is Upton’s Naturals Banana Blossom, large, purple-skinned flowers that grow at the end of a banana bunch. Their neutral flavor and flaky texture make it an ideal fish substitute. Another predicted favorite is Good Catch Fish-Free Tuna made of a blend of peas, chickpeas, lentils, soy, fava beans and navy beans.

Samuels and Son Seafood of Philadelphia is the first company to publicly admit that it is selling a genetically tweaked Atlantic salmon made by AquaBounty Technologies of Massachusetts. The wholesale restaurant supplier services several chains including McCormick and Schmicks, Morton’s Steakhouse and The Hard Rock Café.

The fish, which grows roughly three times faster than normal salmon, is the first genetically modified animal to be approved by the federal government for human consumption. More than 80 food companies including Safeway,Kroger, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods have said they will refuse to carry it.

Federal labeling law “directs” companies to disclose genetically modified ingredients through use of a QR code, on-package wording, or a symbol. Mandatory compliance takes effect in January 2022, but the rules don’t apply to restaurants or providers of meals away from home.

Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Updated: 
08/25/2021 - 10:05am