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Expanding Seafood Safety from the Grocery Store to the Bait Store

When the Pillsbury Doughboy™ sprang into national consciousness in 1965, few would have guessed he would become an American icon. Similarly, and around the same time, probably nobody anticipated that Pillsbury's approach to ensuring safe meals for astronauts would become a standard for food safety here on Earth. Even in their wildest moments during that stormy decade, the people behind Pillsbury's first Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP, pronounced “hassip”) plans probably didn't envision that it would evolve into a program for minimizing the spread of aquatic nuisance species...but it has.

It happened like this. In 1997, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) established HACCP regulations for the seafood industry. The National Sea Grant Program agreed to assist businesses to develop HACCP plans in their efforts to comply with the FDA's mandate. Minnesota Sea Grant Associate Director Jeff Gunderson has been doing this over the years, becoming certified to teach the HACCP process and holding workshops for local seafood handlers. He recently worked with an enterprise along Lake Superior's north shore to develop a HACCP plan for preparing dried fish for ethnic food markets.

“HACCP programs emphasize processes rather than products,” said Gunderson. “They identify the points in a process that are critical to the safety of the food and stress using scientifically-based methods to control the hazards. An effective HACCP plan is a self-inspection system that promotes communication between regulators and industry. Since HACCP principles are defined by how a company operates, they can be customized to suit a variety of industries.”

Robert Lindsey, with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, rinses a mesh “sock” that filters reservoir water entering the Inks Dam National Fish Hatchery in Texas.

Robert Lindsey, with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, rinses a mesh “sock” that filters reservoir water entering the Inks Dam National Fish Hatchery in Texas. The sock keeps debris, fish eggs, and fry from contaminating the hatchery's water supply. Rinsing the sock before it clogs is an example of a “critical control point” in a systematic process designed to control hazards like the introduction of aquatic nuisance species.

Besides this traditional approach to seafood safety, Gunderson and Ron Kinnunen of Michigan Sea Grant decided to put a new twist on Pillsbury's innovation by applying it to practices in fish hatcheries and wild baitfish businesses that might spread aquatic nuisance species (ANS). Last year Gunderson and Kinnunen, along with other Sea Grant collaborators in Illinois-Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, received funding from the National Sea Grant Program to do just that.

“Science-based controls for managing ANS are not nearly as well-developed as handling procedures are for the seafood industry,” said Gunderson, “but the HACCP approach might minimize the number and magnitude of regulations that frequently restrict businesses because the process encourages management agencies and individual businesses to cooperate and agree on steps to prevent the spread of ANS.”

After hearing Gunderson's presentation about the HACCP baitfish project at a conference, Bob Pitman, invasive species coordinator of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service-Region 2 (USFWS), invited Gunderson to hold a workshop with hatchery managers and ecological services personnel in Texas. “The HACCP process being refined by Sea Grant for aquaculture operations to reduce the spread of ANS could also help eliminate accidental introductions through USFWS stocking programs,” said Pitman.

This concern was driven home in June when a gizzard shad (an exotic fish) was collected in Lake Powell, UT. Shad might have been accidentally introduced upstream over four years earlier when the USFWS stocked Morgan Lake with largemouth bass for recreational purposes.

In Minnesota, bait harvesters need a special permit to collect bait from waters infested with Eurasian watermilfoil, like Lake Mille Lacs. Current regulations prohibit baitfish harvest from waters infested with other ANS, like zebra mussels and spiny waterfleas. Although bait harvesters, growers, and dealers, like most of us, are leery of more paperwork and regulations, they understand the impact their profession could have on the spread of ANS.

“I don't harvest in waters that contain watermilfoil, but I've attended these workshops for the last two years anyway,” said bait harvester Jim Bosek of Bosek Fisheries in Garfield, Minnesota, after a Minnesota Sea Grant and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources-sponsored “Infested Waters Workshop.”

“I've learned a lot about (aquatic nuisance species) and talked with Wisconsin harvesters who seine rivers where exotic species are a real problem,” said Bosek. “We want to keep doing business in local lakes and across state borders …to do that, we need to be aware of our market's concerns and respond to them. I figure I'd like to be proactive about it,” he said.

Gunderson and Kinnunen are finalizing a draft HACCP manual for the baitfish and aquaculture industries. It provides the framework for developing preventative techniques for controlling the spread of ANS that people like Bob Pitman and Jim Bosek need. Gunderson and his colleagues are also examining baitfish samples purchased at retail outlets throughout the Great Lakes for ANS.

Sea Grant's work with hatcheries, HACCP, and bait businesses has only begun. Within the next year, Gunderson and his colleagues plan on generating regional workshops, peer-reviewed papers, the forthcoming HACCP manual for the baitfish/aquaculture trades, and a supporting video.

So someday, if you buy bait and notice a sticker that certifies it is ANS-free, remember to thank the Doughboy™ …and Sea Grant.

By Sharon Moen
January 2001

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