Subsistence Fishermen Share Catch with Yukon, Chignik Families

Image: Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association.

Subsistence salmon gathered by Dillingham, Alaska area residents in advance of the Bristol Bay commercial salmon fishery are sharing over 5,000 pounds of their catch with families along the Yukon River and Chignik area that are unable to fish in 2023 because of low run returns.

Plans are for Grant Aviation to fly the whole, cleaned and frozen fish in August to Alakanuk, Pitkas Point, Saint Mary’s, Chignik Lagoon and Chignik Bay. Some fish will also be used by the Yukon River Drainage Fishermen’s Association Educational Exchange program where several youth will travel to communities on the Yukon and share their experiences with salmon.

The salmon donation project is a collaborative effort of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association’s (ALFA) Seafood Distribution Network, plus Northline Seafoods, Bristol Bay Native Association, Grant Aviation and Bristol Bay Native Corp.

Back in June, before the commercial fishery began, Dillingham area residents donated the more than 5,000 pounds of sockeyes to the cause. Northline Seafoods, which specializes in processing and freezing whole fish, helped oversee the cleaning and freezing of the salmon, which were frozen whole in response to requests from Yukon and Chignik communities for whole fish, so that they could utilize the salmon and practice their food traditions.

Each salmon was labeled with the name of the family that donated it.

Natalie Sattler, program director for ALFA, said the effort was a bit of an experiment for ALFA, which didn’t know how much fish people would be willing to donate.

“When people heard that we were collecting salmon for the Yukon and Chigniks, they jumped at the chance to contribute and help other Alaskans — especially those who depend on subsistence for their diet and culture,” she said.

ALFA was first approached in 2020 to help address the growing shortage of salmon in Alaska’s rural communities and has since been involved in the Seafood Distribution Network.

“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.

The Seafood Distribution Network has its roots in ALFA’s Seafood Donation Program, which was started in March 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on local fisheries and families. Since then, the Seafood Donation Program has provided over 645,000 donated Alaska seafood meals to hungry families in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. ALFA is currently in the planning process of developing a long-term plan for a regional food system partnership for future seafood donations.