Fishermen Are Putting Food on the Table for Those in Need

Alaska Young Fishermen

Photo: Fishermen in Alaska. Photo courtesy of National Fisherman, from the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.

What good can come of a pandemic that has killed hundreds of thousands of people worldwide? I suppose it is a rhetorical question, isn’t it? The simple answer is, not much. So, as I sat down to write this, the questions became; what changes will come from this, and will those changes be any good?

Our work at the Network centers on marine resource policy, so that is the area we see the most impact from the pandemic. And while there are worldwide implications, we are still trying to wrap our heads around the ones happening here in the U.S.

People are going hungry

Even in the best of times, there are programs to help feed the hungry. The desperate reality is more people are finding it hard to feed their families. In disadvantaged and food insecure communities, it is worse.

Fishermen want to fish

In the early stages of the pandemic, the uncertainty for fishermen was operational. Could they go fish? How can they keep the crew safe? Would there be people onshore to provide needed services? Can our working waterfronts keep working? As the pandemic wore on, the operational questions gave way to questions about markets. If we catch the fish, can we sell them at a price that makes sense to put to sea?

Public venues with no public

Large sporting events and concerts are casualties of the pandemic. Large, private entertainment facilities have space and internal infrastructure that stands idle. Can this infrastructure and spaces be repurposed to serve the public in a time of crisis?

Chaos equals opportunity

Hungry people need food, fisherman have food but need a market and large event facilities stand idle. How do we connect the dots here?

Enter The Wave

For the last month or so, the Network has been part of a group doing some dot-connecting.

The Wave Food Box Program sources food that is healthier for people and the planet. The program increases local food recovery, gets people back to work, feeds tribal and vulnerable urban and rural communities, and shifts to more resilient community food systems, inclusive of Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC).

Pilot Project One

The Wave Foundation held its first public food distribution event on July 15, at City Hall in Cascade Locks, Oregon, in coordination with the Columbia Gorge Food Bank. The event was open to the public, with pre-event outreach focused on the area’s Tribal Nation communities. Post-event outreach included distribution of food to Tribal fishing communities along the Columbia River.

“The recent COVID pandemic has amplified many social, health, housing, and food security disparities for our Tribal members along the Columbia River. Combining efforts among many partners has helped with some of these disparities. The recent food distribution was able to help many Tribal residents with both food and other additional resources at Cascade Locks,” said Buck Jones, with Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. “Having the ability to bring food boxes and frozen cod by The Wave to residents of the Treaty Fishing Access and In-Lieu Sites helped many that were unable to attend this event. It also allowed The Wave staff to see first-hand the living conditions that Tribal members live in.”

The results from day’s events included:

  • 157 households representing 611 individuals fed during the distribution event
  • 600 additional families served with The Wave Foundation’s truck deliveries direct to Tribal Nation Columbia River Basin communities
  • 140 food boxes distributed by The Wave Foundation truck from the Columbia Gorge Food Bank to Tribal Nation fishing communities
  • More than 400 hot meals prepared with lingcod and by Koi Fusion’s food truck
  • 150 pounds of fish served in hot meals and 850 pounds served via delivery direct to Tribal Nation communities

“For our members, the best part of being a fisherman is providing high-quality protein to people who value seafood and care about how seafood is caught. With support from Catch Together and processing by Seafood Producers Cooperative, our community supported fishery’s program Alaskans Own can do just that. Working with The Wave, we are providing the best possible protein from the sea to families in need while building resource, community, and food resilience,” said Linda Behnken, a commercial fisherman and founding member of Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust.

The Wave’s partner venues and their staff serve as the conduit for food storage, kitchen preparations, and packaging for healthy, nutritious, and easy-to-prepare meals to vulnerable households. Each box containing a week’s worth of lunch and dinner meals is nutritionally balanced with healthy protein, produce and grains, and includes recipes from local chefs. From a box, already stressed households would find making a chef-inspired meal as easy as making a burger.

The Food Box Program starts where The Wave began – in the Northwest cities of Seattle and Portland. The plan is to add more Wave stakeholder public venues as hubs and to start working with restaurants to increase capacity and move across the nation sourcing regionally, employing local staff and feeding more households.

“This collaboration between Alaska’s Own and The Wave is doing what America does best when called to act for those in need,” said Kevin Scribner, owner of Forever Wild Seafood, board member of the Network and member of The Wave’s Steering Committee. “Our fisheries and working waterfronts provide seafood not only in good times, but we answer the call when it’s bad. This is just what fishermen risk their lives to do: keep America healthy and alive—from sea to shining sea!”

Today the nation continues to suffer from the impacts of COVID-19. As we begin to rebuild the economy, mitigating the damage done to vulnerable communities and displaced front-line food providers will require a significant federal investment. The private sector has stepped in to provide bridge funding to show that the program works, but more needs to be done. Congress and the administration must act quickly to adapt and fund existing federal programs to help feed hungry people, keep seafood moving in the supply chain, and prevent further damage to the economy.

What can you do to help?

The most enjoyable way to help is pretty simple: eat seafood!

To find fish in your area, head over to the Local Catch Network, a network of fishermen organizers, researchers, and consumers committed to providing local, healthful, low-impact, and economically sustainable seafood. You can find Alaskans Own and other excellent sources of sustainably harvested seafood through their Seafood Finder.

The folks at the Seafood Nutrition Partnership have rolled out an education program called Eat Seafood, America. The websites offer recipes and other educational information.

Meanwhile, the Network and its diverse membership will continue to work with Congress to ensure that food reaches communities in need and that the small businesses that make up our working waterfronts and coastal communities continue to survive now and into the future. If you would like to learn about specific legislative proposals and how you can encourage Congress to act, drop us a line.

About Tom Sadler

Tom Sadler is the Network's deputy director. He has an extensive background in advocacy and journalism and a passion for oceans and fly-fishing. 

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