Fishermen's News - The Advocate for the Commercial Fisherman

Yield and Recovery


A carefully handled, headed and gutted fish is the most reliable form to achieve maximum yield. Photo courtesy of Gulkana Seafoods.

Dock price. How much are fishermen getting for their catch? A fisherman can calculate boat and permit payments, fuel and labor costs and divide by pounds caught to figure out the price per pound required to pay the bills and make a profit. Another method is to use the dock price to figure out how many pounds must be caught to ensure financial stability.

The formula isn't so easy for the processor buying the fish. There are many factors, known and unknown that are part of the equation. As with fishermen, there are fixed costs of labor and infrastructure. There are also unknown factors such as foreign markets and the strength of the US dollar. One piece of this intricate puzzle that falls into both categories is recovery and yield.

Recovery and yield are terms that relate to how many pounds of useable product or "finished product" can be produced from pounds of delivered product or "raw product." There are two parts to determining recovery and yield. The first is the purely mathematical concept of weighing the raw product, subtracting the weight of what is unusable and must be discarded to arrive at the pounds available to sell. The second part is determining how much unusable material was created throughout the harvest and processing of the product.

In order to take some of the mystery out of this equation, the processing industry uses a handbook titled Recoveries and Yields from Pacific Fish and Shellfish. This booklet is produced by Alaska Sea Grant and is available to the public through their website and local offices. The booklet breaks down each species of seafood into various product forms and provides high, low and average recoveries for each one. This is the initial target processors use when determining how much useable product they will have after processing. An important thing to remember when looking at these numbers is that they are ranges and averages – recovery numbers change throughout the season based on sexual maturity of the fish, freshness of the fish and butcher accuracy.

The second part of determining recovery and yield changes daily and is harder to quantify. Raw product can become unusable for a variety of reasons including the quality condition of the fish when it leaves the ocean, how it is handled on the boat/tender and how well it is processed by the facility.

Fish can have conditions present before they are harvested that make them unfit for human consumption. These conditions include significant cuts and scarring from interactions with predators, cancer or disease discovered when the fish is butchered and (in the case of salmon) spawned past the time the flesh is useable.

Boats and tenders can have a significant impact on recovery. Fish can be bruised or experience severe net marks and pressure marks through the harvest process. Bruised and mutilated flesh makes the fish unsuitable for fillets and portions as well as decreasing the value of the fish in a headed and gutted product form. Fish that have experienced temperature abuse at either extreme can become unusable product. Warm fish start the decomposition process quickly and may develop an odor and texture that make them unusable. Fish chilled below 32 degrees can have frozen internal organs. Organs including roe, milt and stomachs can be affected this way and are often part of the equation to determine yield.

Recovery is affected through processing systems. Each time raw product goes through a separate processing step, there is a potential for lost product. The most reliable form is a headed and gutted fish. In this form head cuts are the only step that may increase or decrease recovery and it is often an insignificant number. When the fish is filleted there is the possibility of meat left on the frame of the fish and meat lost by removing large pieces of the belly or tail. Finally, when portioning a fillet there is a risk of accumulating portions smaller than the commercial market will accept.

Recovery and yield are just two small parts of the equation that determine both dock price and market value. Understanding how the handling of the fish contributes to this number is a crucial step in ensuring that every piece of the fish is used. New products are constantly being developed to utilize processing scraps, and harvesters can play a part by handling their catch as quickly and gently as possible.

Brandii (O'Reagan) Holmdahl is a Quality Operations Manager with Icicle seafood. Over the last 24 years she has worked in the seafood quality assurance field in every major region in Alaska, handling most species of seafood harvested in Alaska at the foreman and plant manager level. She has also served on the quality sub-committee of the salmon Legislative Task Force, developed training and branding programs throughout Alaska and operated an independent dock for fishermen wanting to retain and sell their own catch.


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