Operation Fish Drop Delivers Salmon to Yukon River Villagers

Sam Schimmel
Sam Schimmel, a senior at Stanford University majoring in political science, pictured here at a music festival on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula in August, is seeking donations to buy more fish to give to the needy. Photo by Margaret Bauman.

Residents of Alaska’s Yukon River villages who were banned from fishing in 2021 due to weak runs of keta and Chinook salmon are still in need of this traditional sustenance, and a concerned Stanford University senior from Alaska is going to great lengths to make it happen.

Sam Schimmel, a political science major at Stanford, addressed participants in November at the opening of the U.S. Pavilion in Glasgow to start of the United Nations Climate Change Conference on how the phenomenon has impacted salmon runs on the Yukon, where oil rich Chinook and keta salmon have been harvested commercially and for subsistence for decades.

Schimmel said that after he spoke he was approached by the CEO of the World Wildlife Fund, who offered his organization’s help. Schimmel said he planned to stay in touch, in hopes of getting support for more salmon for Yukon River communities from WWF.

“For coastal Alaskans in general, the grocery store is the ocean; that is where we get our food,” Schimmel said. “What climate change means for us, it means we don’t have anything to eat,” he said.

Schimmel spoke about the importance of adapting to climate change, and at the same time making sure impacted communities impacted have their nutritional needs met before it’s too late.

Schimmel was at the Glasgow conference at the invitation of the Native Movement in Anchorage, to offer a Native perspective of how climate change affects rural Alaska.

Just prior to the conference, he had worked with the Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust, an affiliate of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association in Sitka, to get 2,000 pounds of filleted Bristol Bay sockeyes to the Tanana Chiefs Conference in Fairbanks for distribution to villages in need.

Schimmel also helped coordinate efforts earlier in the year with the trust to distribute 3,300 pounds of Bristol Bay sockeye fillets to needy families in the Anchorage area.

His own concern, said Schimmel, began as the COVID-19 pandemic spread to Alaska in early 2020 when and he realized that core needs of rural residents were not being met.

“To address food insecurity, cultural insecurity and to combat poor mental outcome, higher rates of alcoholism and depression, that’s what brought this program together,” he said.

The trust has similar concerns and has been collaborating with other entities in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest to provide wild salmon to people in need.

It donates fish in Sitka each week to those experiencing food insecurity.“We could see there was a real need, especially with the pandemic. Since their effort began in the summer of 2020, the trust has donated some 630,000 meals, program manager Natalie Sattler said.   

More information about Operation Fish Drop is online at https://indigenousstrengths.com/operation-fish-drop

Read about the Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust at https://thealaskatrust.org