Bristol Bay Sockeyes Delivered to Communities Where Fishing Was Banned

Ian Turner Demientieff (right) delivers boxes of donated sockeye salmon to Darryl Walker (left) in Holy Cross, Alaska. The fish was one of several shipments donated from Bristol Bay after low salmon counts on the Yukon forced subsistence fishing to close. Photo: Acacia Johnson, courtesy of Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association.

A collaborative effort of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association (ALFA) and Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust (ASFT) has brought thousands of pounds of sockeye salmon to communities in the Chignik and Yukon River regions of Alaska banned from fishing because of low salmon runs.

“It was really important to us that we expand our salmon distributions to the Yukon where they are facing a true food security crisis due in part to climate change’s impacts on our marine ecosystem and the health of our wild salmon runs,” said Linda Behnken, a veteran commercial harvester who’s the executive director of ALFA and president of the ASFT board.

“We recognize that this summer’s salmon donations are a band-aid at best and that we ultimately need to address the underlying causes of these devastating declines,” she added.

ALFA and ASFT launched the Fish for Families initiative in the early summer in collaboration with small boat fishermen around the state to ensure that Alaska Native communities had sufficient amount of salmon to observe cultural traditions and their way of life.

The Fish for Families program focused on sourcing salmon from Bristol Bay, which saw a record run of some 78 million sockeye salmon, while on the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers Chinook, chum and coho runs were at an all-time low.

The first Fish for Families distribution was in the Chigniks, with about 5,000 pounds of headed and gutted Bristol Bay sockeyes flown in and distributed to families hard hit by the reduced salmon harvest.

Next, Fish for Families focused on the Yukon region, working with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and other regional partners to deliver 8,000 pounds of Bristol Bay sockeye to Anvik Grayling, Holy Cross and Shageluk, with plans to bring an additional 3,000 pounds of sockeyes to St. Mary’s.

“Through the Fish for Families project, we hope to meet these short-term needs while at the same time build a network of like-minded fishermen, processors, communities, and organizations that are committed to building a more resilient and equitable food system in Alaska that supports the long-term well-being of Alaskans,” Behnken said.

To help provide the salmon for the Fish for Families project, ASFT launched a GoFundMe campaign and secured donations from foundations and partners, including the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, Bristol Bay Native Corporation, Catch Together, and Alaska Conservation Foundation.

Logistics support, seafood procurement and donated transportation was provided by Northline Seafoods, Grant Air, Ryan Air, Alaska Pride Air and Everts Air.

The Fish for Families project is a collaboration of ALFA, ASFT, Northline Seafoods, North Soul Salmon, Net to Table Seafoods, Catch Together, Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, Copper River Fish Market, Boreal Sockeye,  Yukon River Drainage Fisheries Association, SalmonState and the Businesses for Conservation and Climate Action.