Even before the 2023 start of the Bristol Bay commercial salmon fishery, the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association (ALFA) was working to get sockeye salmon into the hands of families in Chignik and Yukon River communities unable to fish because of low salmon runs.
“The whole project was a bit of an experiment for us,” ALFA Program Director Natalie Sattler explained. “We didn’t know how many people would be willing to contribute a portion of their subsistence harvest for families that they didn’t know.”
When the subsistence harvesters heard that ALFA was looking for people to contribute a portion of their subsistence harvest, “they jumped at the chance to contribute and help other Alaskans, especially those who depend on subsistence for their diet and culture,” Sattler said. “We were thrilled by the positive responses and were able to collect our target of 5,000 pounds of salmon much quicker than anticipated.”
Along with the subsistence harvesters, ALFA’s Seafood Distribution Network collaborated with Northline Seafoods, Bristol Bay Native Association, Grant Aviation and Bristol Bay Native Corp.
Northline Seafoods, a new processor in Bristol Bay, specializes in processing and freezing whole fish, which is just what people in the Yukon River and Chignik communities have said they wanted. Northline helped oversee the cleaning and freezing of the salmon, with each fish labeled with the name of the family that donated it.
Grant Aviation was slated to help fly that salmon in August to Alakanuk, Pitkas Point, Saint Mary’s, Chignik Lagoon and Chignik Bay. Some of those fish are also to be used by the Yukon River Drainage Fishermen’s Association Educational Exchange program, which involves several youth traveling to Yukon River communities to share their experiences with salmon.
Northline Seafoods has been involved in the Seafood Distribution Network since 2020.
“Making sure local Alaskans have access to high quality seafood is incredibly important to us and we are committed to supporting the network’s ongoing efforts to build the infrastructure and distribution systems needed to improve the resiliency and sustainability of Alaska’s local food system,” Northline Seafoods CEO Ben Blakey said.
Congresswoman Mary Peltola, D-Alaska, said grassroots efforts such as this fill her with hope during a time when so many communities are struggling with low salmon returns, followed by another summer of empty smokehouses and freezers.
“This project not only embodies what subsistence is all about, but it is also an example of Alaskans at their best: sharing and taking care of each other during times of need,” she said. “Low salmon abundance is an issue that needs to be addressed at every level, from the federal government down to individual communities, and efforts like this are an important piece of that larger goal.”
ALFA and the Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust (ASFT) launched the donation Program in response to needs identified during the COVID-19 pandemic, with a goal of providing healthy protein to people, food pantries and communities.
With seafood donations from ASFT members and a web-based donation site, ALFA and ASFT were able to deliver COVID-19 safe seafood to families identified as food insecure. Since March 2020, the Seafood Distribution Network has spent over $2.5 million to purchase and deliver more than 645,000 donated seafood meals to those in need in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest.
In 2022, ALFA and ASFT worked with several organizations to donate Bristol Bay sockeyes to Alaska Native communities that might otherwise have gone hungry, delivering nearly 19,000 pounds of sockeyes to 10 of them.
They also laid the foundation for a network of community harvesters, processors, regional associations, tribes and individuals committed to building a more resilient and equitable local seafood distribution system.
By doing so, ALFA officials said, they’ve not only addressed immediate food-insecurity needs, but also provided market stability for local fishermen and strengthened Alaska’s local seafood and salmon distribution network.
Margaret Bauman can be reached at email@example.com