Fish Factor: Goodfish puts skin in the game to market wild salmon

Snacks that are good for people and the planet now come in the form of crispy chips made from Bristol Bay sockeye salmon skins.

The new, flash-fried snack was spawned by a Los Angeles-based company called Goodfish, which aims to “propel sustainable seafood into our mass-market consumer culture.”

It’s the second venture for partners Justin Guilbert and Douglas Riboud, a well-financed duo who are committed to trailblazing brands that have “higher standards of sourcing, manufacturing, and social ethos.”

A decade ago, they co-founded Harmless Harvest, the world’s first sustainably harvested, organic coconut water. That product, now found in 70,000 outlets, helped economize non-timber forest products made from renewable resources.

It also paved the way for Goodfish, the “first-to-market 100 percent traceable salmon skin crisp snack,” sourced from Bristol Bay. Errol Schweizer, former Whole Foods Market global grocery coordinator also has joined the company to help set up the supply chain and operations.

“The idea was to look at sustainable, wild fisheries and figure out a way to create products that would get critical mass hits in the marketplace in order to protect that wild fishery. And by protecting the fishery you’re maintaining the social fabric that is supported by it,” Guilbert said in a phone interview.

No fishery fit their business philosophy of “healthy snacks with a conscience” better than Bristol Bay salmon.

“We were looking first and foremost for a fish species that had the highest positive collective attributes, where you would walk up to anyone and say, what’s the healthiest fish, the best fish, and salmon really fit the bill,” Guilbert said.

The Goodfish team spent a month “hanging out” at Bristol Bay before creating the salmon chips over three years in partnership with Trident Seafoods. And in this case, they wanted some skin in the game to create awareness of the threat to the salmon fishery posed by the Pebble Mine.

“A threat that is focused on short lived, destructive practices where most of the profit goes outside of the community,” Guilbert said. “The destruction of that ecosystem will affect an entire culture. That’s a message that we can make the American consumer aware of and understand that consumption can lead to direct impact.”

The Goodfish “brain, skin and body snack” comes packaged in four flavors — Sea Salt, Chili Lime, Spicy BBQ and Tart Cranberry. Find them at Amazon and at goodfish.com.

Fish grilling on Sept. 3

The votes of two unconfirmed and highly controversial Board of Fisheries (BOF) members will likely be counted at upcoming meetings that begin in October and run through mid-March.

The BOF oversees management of Alaska’s subsistence, commercial, sport and personal use fisheries. This cycle the board will focus on Prince William Sound and Southeast, and statewide shellfish issues.

The new appointments, made on April 1 by Gov. Mike Dunleavy, would normally go through a vigorous vetting process by the Alaska Legislature with public input. But COVID-19 sent lawmakers home early from the 2020 session, leaving the confirmation process in limbo.

A public hearing on Abe Williams of Anchorage and McKenzie Mitchell of Fairbanks is set for 10 a.m. Sept. 3 at the Legislative information office in Anchorage. John Jensen of Petersburg also is up for reappointment. 

Williams is director of regional affairs for the Pebble mine and a longtime Bristol Bay fisherman. Mitchell’s resume says she is a sportfish guide on Kodiak Island, a small plane enthusiast and an adjunct Professor of Economics and Recreation Business Leadership at the University of Alaska/Fairbanks.

In a statement to the “Alaska Fisheries Committee,” Mitchell stated that she believes all of the state’s fisheries are “incredibly important” and that she is “incredibly passionate about Alaska, Alaska’s resources, and my Alaskan lifestyle and I would be honored to serve as a member of the Alaska Board of Fisheries and I understand the responsibility associated with helping to manage one of the best-managed fisheries in the world.”

The Sept. 3 video meeting will be a long one, said Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, who called the special hearing to be held jointly by the House Fisheries and Resource Committees.

“I have no end time, because I want to assure the public and fellow legislators that their constituents will have an opportunity to have their input and concerns heard,” Stutes said, adding that people can question the nominees directly and all comments will be on the record.

“State representatives and senators have an opportunity to review their constituents’ comments prior to making their vote on confirming these people,” she said.

A concern among many constituents is that should the slate of BOF appointees get the nod by state legislators only one, Jensen, will represent a coastal community.

“Our fisheries occur along our coastline and for us not to have any representation out of Kodiak or Dillingham or Cordova or Dutch Harbor, it’s just unbelievable to me,” Stutes said.

Also unbelievable to Stutes is that BOF appointees can vote before they are confirmed.

“The Board of Fish is a very serious board,” she said. “They make significant decisions that affect a lot of people’s livelihoods. And to have these appointees have the ability to have a bona fide vote before they are confirmed by the Legislature is problematic.”

So, what happens after the Sept. 3 hearing?

If a special session is called, the governor could add the BOF confirmations to the agenda.

“In order for the Legislature to call themselves back into a special session, you need 40 votes,” Stutes explained, adding, “I would be surprised if that happens, but it may,” in order to deal with COVID-19 relief fund issues.

If the BOF confirmations do not occur, all names must be nominated again by the Dunleavy administration in the upcoming legislative session that begins in mid-January.

Regarding Abe Williams, Stutes said she feels the same about his appointment as she does about the Pebble Mine.

“Wrong mine in the wrong place. Wrong person for the Board of Fish,” she said.

The elusive McKenzie Mitchell has already put Stutes and United Fishermen of Alaska on notice that she might skip the upcoming hearing.

Despite advance notice since July 10, Mitchell stated recently that “she is very concerned that she may not be available,” because she “will be calling in via satellite phone from a remote hunting camp where I am working.”

As a voting member of the Board of Fisheries, Mitchell owes it to the many Alaskans she will be representing to make the short boat or plane trip into Kodiak where she can participate at Stute’s legislative office.

Stutes said she will provide video conference call-in information soon. Comments can be sent to housefisheries@akleg.gov.

One stop shop for Covid help

One of the most frustrating things coming out of COVID-19 for fishermen and coastal businesses is how to apply for the many relief fund options or finding someone who can answer questions. Now, help is one click or call away for Alaskans who live in the Southwest region.

“It’s super easy. You go to one screen and everything that’s available comes up and it shows you what you’re eligible for, what you might be eligible for and what you’re not eligible for,” said Shirley Marquardt, executive director of the Southwest Alaska Municipal Conference (SWAMC) which serves regional boroughs of the Aleutian/Pribilofs, Bristol Bay, Kodiak and the Lake and Peninsula regions. 

SWAMC used relief funds from the Department of Commerce to create a free, online portal called FORWARD that cuts through the red tape for finding loans, grants, tax deferrals and more.

“It takes the mystery out of how to get help. It shows you all these things that are available, which ones fit you. Want to apply? Click apply!” Marquardt told KMXT in Kodiak, adding that there are many options people are not even aware of.

What’s best about the FORWARD program is that a friendly voice will answer or return every phone call. That’s the job of SWAMC’s Keri Scaggs.

“I respond as quickly as I can because people are nervous,” she said. “They’re scared. They’re wondering what the future is going to look like, and I think it makes a difference for them to hear a voice that seems to care.”

Scaggs would normally travel to the various communities and meet directly with people, but COVID has cancelled gatherings and forced the process to be handled online.

It’s a problem that has drawn attention again to the frustrations brought by limited broadband access for many rural regions.

“This is a huge drawback for anything we do in this region,” Marquardt said. “We’ve been screaming for expanded broadband for a very long time, and it’s things like this that prove why we need it.”

That’s why Scaggs urges people to simply pick up the phone.

“They feel cut off as it is,” she said. “When they get a live person on the phone and hear a voice that will listen to their story and to their fears, it does bring some comfort, even if I can’t always solve all their problems.”

Reach Keri Scaggs at forward@swamc.org or 907-242-4077.