Southeast Alaska fishermen's group works to feed families affected by COVID-19

Alaskans Own seafood

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - With thousands of Alaskans out of work because of coronavirus mandates and other economic effects, fishermen and processors in Southeast Alaska are working to ensure families in need have access to food.

One of those groups, the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, is partnering with processors in Sitka to distribute five-pound packages of fish to families in Sitka. The families in need have been identified through the town’s mutual aid program.

“Within a week or two of the shelter-in-place and a lot of the businesses closing down, hearing that the grocery store here was not accepting checks anymore because too many of them were bouncing, to me was a pretty clear sign that people are feeling that stress,” said Linda Behnken, Executive Director of ALFA. “Since we are probably closer to the whole economic impacts of this pandemic than the end, we started thinking about what we could do and talking to the processors here in Sitka, and right away heard from fishermen that where they can they’re willing to donate fish to help to get to families in need."

Behnken said the processors then also jumped on boarding, saying they'd help get the fish to families as long as someone could distribute it. Anyone else who want to support the effort can help cover the costs by purchasing donation boxes through ALFA’s community-supported fishery program, Alaskans Own.

Alaskans Own is a non-profit seafood subscription program run by ALFA that connects Alaskans with locally caught seafood throughout the season. Behnken said that having the infrastructure in place for the subscription service is what has allowed the organization to quickly adjust to meet the new needs in Sitka.

“People can donate just $3 a pound to cover the cost of processing the fish, managing the program and distributing the fish." Behnken said. "So it’s not the actual cost of the fish, but the cost of just making it all happen.

"Some of it will be fish that people bring in that’s incidental to their target catch," she said, noting rockfish as an example, which people sometimes put up and take home to eat themselves after it’s been weighed. "Others will be fish that either the processors or of the fishermen say, ‘out of my catch, I’d like to donate this amount.’”

Last week was the first week of distribution. Behnken said the group distributed 80 pounds of albacore tuna loins, donated by Seafood Producers Cooperative, to families and the Sitkans Against Family Violence shelter. Behnken said this week the organization will pick up and deliver 130 pounds of seafood to families in five-pound portions.

“I think we’ll be able to move 100 to 200 lbs of seafood a week at least through the spring," she said, "and we’ll see how need in the community plays out over the rest of the season and keep this going as long as we feel like we’re meeting a need."

Sitkans in need can find help through Sitka Mutual Aid. Individuals who want to support the efforts can purchase seafood donation boxes on the Alaskans Own website.

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