A new NOAA fisheries study shows how mitigating seafood waste through a bycatch donation program is helping to feed thousands of food insecure Americans.
The study notes how under the Prohibited Species Donation program trawl fishery prohibited species catch that would otherwise be discarded at sea is being donated to hunger relief organizations through the non-profit organization SeaShare, on Bainbridge Island, Washington.
For 26 years SeaShare has worked with the Alaska seafood industry to donate millions of servings of prohibited species catch of salmon and halibut, high quality seafood that would have otherwise been discarded due to prohibition on retention. The PSD program offers an example of how to address food security and social value, an under-represented perspective in the global dialogue on unwanted catches, the report said.
The report was compiled by Jordan Watson of the Alaska Fisheries Science Center in Juneau, Diana Stram of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council in Anchorage and Jim Harmon, executive director of SeaShare.
Historically the focus on waste reduction in fisheries has been on the supply side of the issue, centered mainly on efforts to avoid unwanted catches altogether.
Historically all prohibited species catch in Alaska was discarded at sea to avoid any incentive for trawlers to encounter such species. Federal fisheries managers at length agreed that some of these prohibited finfish need not be banned from human consumption altogether. Now trawl caught salmon and halibut can contribute to the nation’s food security by way of the PSC program which allows for donation of these fish through food banks.
Over the past few decades salmon PSC in Alaska has averaged about 200,000 fish annually from an average Pollock catch of more than 1.3 million metric tons of Pollock for the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska. In the Bering Sea, Chinook and chum salmon accounted for about 10 percent and 90 percent of salmon PSC respectively from 2011 to 2019.
The study notes that salmon PSC has declined substantially in recent years, likely due to mitigation efforts and regulations that further limit bycatch. Those efforts to reduce bycatch continue at the federal council level, with action on gear modification and rolling hot spot closures, plus other regulatory overhaul efforts.
Likewise there are concerns of PSC of halibut, which has prompted regulatory changes regarding bottom trawling, restructuring of target species quotas, gear modifications, deck sorting, intra-cooperative penalty structures, and more. NPFMC members and the National Marine Fisheries Service are working to develop dynamic PSC limits based on halibut abundance to further mitigate the impact to depleted halibut stocks.
Meanwhile, since 2004, SeaShare has distributed over 2,386 metric tons of salmon and 276 metric tons of halibut in portion sized that amount to nearly 23.5 million servings of protein rich seafood. The program is supported by seafood harvesters, processors, transportation firms and others, including the U.S Cost Guard, who donate their services to ensure delivery of the portioned seafood to food banks nationwide, include rural areas of Alaska. More information on the program is online at www.seashare.org.