ANCHORAGE, Alaska -

The U.S. Department of Agriculture will purchase $20 million in canned Alaska pink salmon for nationwide distribution to hungry Americans, with a suggestion from Sen. Lisa Murkowski playing a part in the decision.

According to a Friday statement from Murkowski’s office, the purchase follows $126 million in produce acquired last week by USDA’s The Emergency Food Action Program. The Alaska Republican was the lead GOP signer of a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack from a bipartisan group of more than 20 senators recommending that purchase, in light of food banks’ increased need across the country.

“Every Alaskan knows that our salmon is brain food and full of protein, so I suggested the Department of Agriculture consider our nutritious and delicious salmon for food banks nationwide experiencing high levels of need,” Murkowski said in the statement.

Murkowski spokesperson Matthew Felling says the money for the salmon is drawn from existing USDA funds. He says the senator’s pitch for the program to buy fish was a natural offshoot of the produce purchase.

“We had them on the phone last week and we’re like, ‘We have a big surplus of pink salmon up here in Alaska,’” Felling said.

Felling estimates that the money will buy about 5,000 tons of salmon. It wasn’t immediately clear Friday afternoon whether the fish would simply be certified as caught in Alaska or purchased from Alaska sources.

Sen. Mark Begich’s office hailed the purchase in a Friday statement, saying the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute “spearheaded” the USDA pitch. The funds represent a sharp increase from the department’s usual annual purchases of $5 million to $10 million in salmon.

“Begich said he hopes this year’s increased purchases will help ease overstocked supplies following last year’s record catch,” officials wrote. “The purchase will also benefit fishermen by reducing inventories that have weighed salmon prices down on the market.”

According to Felling, once the USDA purchases the fish individual states will make arguments for their need of the program’s resources. He says the fish may be distributed in about four to six weeks.

“Food banks are looking for help, and the Department of Agriculture has a program that’s in place for this exact purpose,” Felling said.