BBRSDA launches another season of research to improve salmon quality

Bristol Bay sockeye salmon marketers, harvesters and processors are collaborating again in the summer of 2023 on a collaborative research project with a Texas firm to monitor and improve the quality and value of Bristol Bay sockeye salmon in the global marketplace.

To Andy Wink, executive director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association (BBRSDA), this is another exciting evolution for the Bristol Bay salmon fishery.

“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,” said Wink.   “The fishery has made tremendous improvements over the past 20 years, as it transitions away from a model where most fish were 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.”

The BBRSDA is partnering for a fourth year with CQ Foods, a Dallas-based Delaware S-Corp., with offices in Alaska, Texas, Michigan and Massachusetts. The CQR 3.0 device used by CQ Foods provides data to refine harvest and handling practices. CQ Foods notes that most Bristol Bay processors pay extra for chilled fish below a certain number. Still some fishermen often have to wait until delivery for their vessels to meet the qualified standards, wasting precious time when they could be doing more fishing. The CQR 3.0 allows processors to be sure they are getting just-caught fish, and fish that can be processed faster than if fishermen had to wait to deliver them to tenders. The device tells them enough about the quality of the fish so they can credit harvesters with the bonus pay.

CQ Foods co-founder Keith Cox, who is also the company’s chief scientific officer, said Bristol Bay presents the ultimate challenge for this new technology.

“This is a very remote fishery with high volume. Our devices have to perform reliably in a wet environment, often with rough seas,” Cox said. “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.”


Bristol Bay processors working with the BBRSDA and CQ Foods this summer include Trident Seafoods, OBI Seafoods, Peter Pan Seafoods, Silver Bay Seafoods, and Leader Creek Seafoods.

All of the processors have the CQR 3.0 devices on their tenders and in their processing facilities, and four fishermen are also using the measuring devices on their boats, said Chuck Anderson, a vice president with the firm.

“The processors are looking at the whole supply chain to see where quality may be lost,” Anderson said. “The overall quality is so much better than five or 10 years ago. We are all learning together.” 

Anderson said his company is also trying to include more processors in the future.

Overall, the data collected empowers both in-season and post-season management to enhance fish quality. In-season management involves identifying boats that deliver warm fish, neglect proper bleeding practices, or produce low-quality fish. The fishermen are then contacted so corrective measures can be implemented to improve handling practices.

In-season management can pinpoint quality issues occurring at different stages too, on fishing boats, tenders, docks, or inside processing plants.

Post-season management entails analyzing fleet-wide data, including metrics such as the percentage of the fleet using proper icing techniques or slide mats, and ranking boats based on quality performance. These insights facilitate targeting handling practice education to correct issues for future operations, the BBRSDA and CQ foods said.

Looking forward, efforts will focus on integrating digital data with electronic fish ticket data to streamline quality assessment, offload weights, and other meta-data into a unified data stream.  Quality thresholds can be utilized as incentives, offering bonuses for achieving specific quality standards while also creating opportunities for marketing prime-quality products and generating additional revenue streams, they said.