CQ Foods Partners with Alaska Seafood Industry to Boost Salmon Quality

CQ Foods has a mandate for quality measurements on thousands of salmon, using a Certified Quality Reader 3.0 device and mobile application. Image: CQ Foods.

Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association (BBRSDA) is partnering for a fourth year with a Texas firm to boost the value of the world’s largest wild sockeye salmon fishery, using technology that measures salmon quality data on tenders and processing plants in Bristol Bay. 

CQ Foods’ mandate is for quality measurements this summer on thousands of salmon, using a Certified Quality Reader 3.0 (CQR 3.0) device and mobile application. The device utilizes bioelectrical impedance analysis to instantly measure meat qualify for a variety of protein foods, calculating the breakdown of internal cells of the fish due to handling. 

BBRSDA officials said the project is part of their continued commitment to maximizing the quality of Bristol Bay salmon.

CQ Foods works directly with Bristol Bay harvesters and processors, employing a total of 71 CQR devices this year in their research. Trident Seafoods, OBI Seafoods, Peter Pan seafoods, Silver Bay Seafoods and Leader Creek Seafoods have these devices on their fishing tenders and in their processing plants, said Chuck Anderson, a vice president and partner in CQ Foods. Four fishermen are also doing quality measurements with the CQR reader on their boats, he said. “We are all learning together,” he said.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologists are projecting landings of over 36 million sockeye salmon this season, which will run through mid-August.

Bristol Bay salmon harvesters and processors were use this data to refine harvest and handling practices.  The CQR 3.0 also is projected to provide an alternative method for paying out “chilling bonuses.” Most Bristol Bay processors pay extra for chilled fish below a certain temperature, but fishermen often have to wait until their fresh catch gets down to the acceptable temperature in their chilled fish holds in order to receive the chilling bonus.  

If CQR testing show the fish have met standards, fishermen would be able to get that bonus even if the salmon hasn’t chilled to the required level, Anderson said. CQ Foods plans also included digitizing quality slips, using computer technology to replace that paperwork in 2024, he said.

BBRSDA executive director Andy Wink said this year’s project would add to fish quality data collected in previous seasons, providing for the possibility of an objective quality baseline.  Most processors currently pay additional bonuses for chilling, bleeding or landing fish with a mat or slide. 

“This fishery often provides over half of the world’s supply of sockeye salmon, and the CQR holds outstanding potential as a way to further improve fish quality measurements,” Wink said. “Bristol Bay is blessed to have an abundant surplus of wild salmon that can be enjoyed across the world, but it’s up to us to make sure we’re maximizing the freshness of each wild salmon.”

“The fishery has made tremendous improvements over the past 20 years, as it transitions away from a model where most fish was canned to one where most fish are eventually sold as fresh or frozen fillets, but we see this as an opportunity to make the critical quality monitoring processes more efficient and improve overall pack quality,” he added.

Keith Cox, chief scientific officer and co-founder of CQ Foods, noted that Bristol Bay presents the ultimate challenge for the new CQR technology.

“This is a very remote fishery with high volume,” Cox said. “Our devices have to perform reliably in a wet environment, often with rough seas. They also have to be able to function offline, as the internet is usually unreliable or not available. “

“All of the challenges presented by Bristol Bay were factored into creating the new 3.0 version of the CQR device and analysis platform, all while reducing production costs,” he remarked.

There are limitations of current handling practices recorded on paper quality slips and later transcribed into digital formats for analysis. The adoption of the CQR device and its mobile application allows for direct entry of digital quality slip data into mobile devices.

The data can help identify boats that deliver warm fish, neglect proper bleeding practices, or produce low-quality fish. By contacting the harvesters, corrective measures can be implemented to improve handling practices, In-season management could also pinpoint quality issues that occur at different stages, such as on fishing boats, tenders, docks or inside processing facilities.

Post-season management involves analyzing fleet-wide data, including metrics that include the percentage of the fleet using proper icing techniques or slide mats, and ranking boats based on quality performance.

The insights facilitate targeted handling practice education to rectify issues for future operations.

Using such a collaborative approach, and working with processors, regulatory bodies and research institutions, the BBRSDA and CQ Foods said they’ve established a model for sustainable fishing practices that balances economic prosperity with environmental stewardship.

The CQR technology is also employed by CQ Foods for clients in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Costa Rica, Faroe Islands, Iceland, Namibia, Norway, Panama, Spain and South Africa.

CQ Foods, founded in Dallas in 2016, has offices in Alaska, Texas, Michigan and Massachusetts. More information is online at certifiedqualityfoods.com.