NIKISKI - In a chilly building across Cook Inlet from the white pyramid of Mount Redoubt rest a few dozen plastic-lined cardboard totes filled to the brim with an amber liquid. Each chest-high cube holds about a ton of fish oil extracted this summer from the heads of salmon. It's a product that would have been lost to the Kenai River if Pat Simpson had not recovered it.
Simpson, 49, is a fisherman-turned-entrepreneur who has for the past few summers purchased salmon heads from fish processors who do business here in this small industrial town north of the Kenai River. Using precision equipment made in Europe, Simpson's team steams and grinds the heads of pink, chum and red salmon to render a product now available in box stores as 90-count bottles of "Wild Alaskan Salmon Oil" gel tablets.
"We sold all our fish oil the first three years (to companies that put it in capsules and sold it to large retailers)," Simpson said at his Nikiski plant, shut down and unheated for the offseason.
Simpson's venture with his company Alaska Marine Nutrition is part of a dream to enable fish processors in remote places to use the oiliest part of a salmon - its head - a portion of the fish prized in other cultures but often returned to the ocean in Alaska fisheries.