Giving to the less fortunate is the true meaning of the Christmas season, and giving Alaska seafood has never been easier.
A single dollar donated to Sea Share translates to eight seafood dinners for hungry Americans from the nation’s food bank network.
For 22 years, fish taken as bycatch in Alaska fisheries has been donated to hunger relief programs via Sea Share instead of being thrown overboard as required by law. During that time, the Seattle-based nonprofit has built a growing nationwide network of fishermen, processors, freight, storage, packaging companies and financial donors to get the fish to the needy. More than 120 Alaska boats are part of the program – including every boat in the Bering Sea pollock fishery and more than half of the Gulf trawl fleet.
“People can participate in many ways–by supplying seafood or services, or by helping to fund those programs. Our partnerships are pretty unique. We take raw fish and turn it into finished meals. There is no other entity doing that in the U.S.,” said, Jim Harmon, director of what is now one of the largest protein donors in the nation – 220 million seafood servings and counting.
Today, bycatch makes up only about 20 percent of the seafood donations; the rest is donated by seafood companies which so far this year totals nearly two million pounds of halibut, salmon, pollock, canned fish and more. Over 1.7 million pounds have gone to 28 states in the Lower 48 and nearly 200,000 pounds have gone to hungry Alaskans.
“With the help of the Coast Guard and some other imaginative measures we’ve reached 36 different communities in Alaska,” Harmon said. “That’s expensive, so we’re having an end of year fund raiser to try to generate more income. A lot of nonprofits, including ours, historically get about 40 percent of their income in the last six weeks of the year.”
Sea Share also is expanding its outreach to the wider public with a video about the importance of eating seafood.
“The Share Your Plate promotion is a program we started this year with a group of seafood companies who wanted to help us make a video about Sea Share that focuses on the importance of seafood nutrition and the lack of access many hungry Americans have to it,” said Kate Tomkins, Sea Share director of development. “Seafood makes up only two percent of protein sources at food banks across the country.”
“Protein is the hardest for food banks to get,” echoed Harmon. “They get a lot produce now and a lot of beverages. But they don’t get the center of the plate protein.”
“Food bank recipients aren’t the chronically homeless or unemployed,” Harmon said. “It’s the under employed or those between jobs who might access the bank for a few weeks.”
Harmon added that it’s not just about feeding people, it’s about feeding them well. Visit www.seashare.org and on Facebook to share your plate this holiday season.
Alaska fishermen who hold catch shares of halibut, sablefish and Bering Sea crab pay an annual fee to the federal government to cover management and enforcement costs for those fisheries. The fee, which is capped at 3 percent, is based on dock prices through September and averaged across the state.
This month bills went out to 1,968 holders of halibut and sablefish shares, 15 fewer than last year. At a three percent fee, those fisheries yielded slightly more for coverage costs at $5.9 million due to an increase in overall fish values at the docks.
“The 2016 halibut landings had an increase in value from 2015 – it went up from $107 million to $112 million. Sablefish also had an increase going from $76.6 million to $77.7 million,” said Carl Greene, Cost Recovery Coordinator for NOAA Fisheries in Juneau.
Halibut prices to fishermen increased to $6.67 per pound during the eight-month fishery, a boost of 25 cents a pound from last year. Sablefish dock prices increased to $4.34 a pound, up 56 cents.
The fees are due to NOAA at the end of January and Greene said nearly 100 percent of the shareholders pay their bills on time. He added that improvements have been made to the eFish payment site to make it more user friendly.
Fishery overseers don’t track the dock prices for Bering Sea king, snow or Tanner crab, only the value of the combined catches. The fee for management and enforcement increased slightly from 1.48 percent to 1.6 percent and yielded $3.7 million in coverage costs. The total value of the crab fisheries, however, decreased slightly.
“The total value was $228 million for the 2015/2016 season, which was a decrease of about one million dollars,” Greene said.
For Bering Sea crab, the processors are responsible for paying the fishery coverage costs in July.
For centuries seafood has taken a special spot on holiday tables and is served up with meaning all over the world.
One of the oldest traditions stemming back to Roman times is the Feast of Seven Fishes, a Christmas Eve celebration by Italian Catholics to honor the birthday of baby Jesus. (The number seven is considered the perfect number and is repeated 700 times in the Bible.) Families dine on seven different seafood dishes as a way to refrain from eating meat or milk on holy days. Some of the most popular dishes are baccalào (salted codfish), smelt and calamari.
Eating lutefisk is a Christmas tradition in Norway and Sweden that goes back to the time of the Vikings. It is made from dried white fish, usually cod, that is prepared with lye in a long series of water treatments until the fish becomes jelly like.
In Japan, prawns (large shrimp) are eaten on New Year’s Eve to ensure long life, along with herring roe for fertility.
Feasting on pickled herring at midnight is enjoyed in Germany, Poland and parts of Scandinavia in hopes of bringing in a bountiful catch.
In Chinese New Year celebrations, a fish is served whole symbolizing a good end and a new beginning in the coming year. One seafood that is not popular on Chinese holiday tables is lobster because it swims backwards.
No matter what your seafood favorites are, include them in your holiday meals to start your own holiday tradition and to give back to the fishermen around the world.
By far, most of the sockeye salmon from Bristol Bay goes to market frozen in headed and gutted or fillet form and not fresh. This summer, more Bay sockeye than ever before was flown out fresh to make up for shortfalls at Cook Inlet and Prince William Sound.