Top photo by Lione Clare
Salmon is fundamental to Western Alaska culture, community, and food security, but climate change and other factors have crippled salmon returns to many Western Alaska river systems. Communities in Chignik and the Yukon and Kuskokwim River watersheds face another summer of low salmon returns, leaving many Alaska Native families without one of their most vital subsistence foods.
“Our back-to-back low salmon returns have been devastating to Chignik’s communities. Wild salmon has been the backbone of our culture for millennia. Without wild salmon, our cultural identity and our food supply is in jeopardy,” said George Anderson, President of the Chignik Intertribal Coalition.
Bristol Bay’s salmon fishery, however, is projected to have a record-breaking season of more than 75 million sockeye salmon. And so this summer, Fish to Families, a salmon donation project, will focus on sourcing salmon from Bristol Bay, where more than 30 million salmon have already returned, and delivering that salmon to other regions where there is not enough local salmon to meet local needs, including communities throughout the Yukon and Kuskokwim River watersheds.
With the support of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, Bristol Bay Native Corporation, and Catch Together, Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association (ALFA) has raised $60,000 for this summer’s Fish for Families deliveries and seeks to raise another $40,000 through its GoFundMe campaign. In early July, local fishermen, Tribal organizations, and community leaders worked together to deliver 2,000 lbs of Bristol Bay sockeye salmon to families in Chignik facing a fourth consecutive year of low salmon returns. ALFA will continue to deliver seafood to several other communities in Chignik and the Yukon this summer.
“The Fish for Families project is a way for us to ensure that we can continue to practice our way of being and instill those values in the next generation. It’s also a chance for us to be part of a growing network of community-minded fishermen and organizations that are committed to building a more resilient and Alaskan-based local seafood distribution system,” said Anderson.
Fish for Families is an expansion of the Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust (ASFT) and ALFA Seafood Donation Program, which was launched in March 2020 in response to COVID-19 and its impacts on Alaska’s seafood industry and local families struggling with food insecurity. Since 2020, the Seafood Donation Program has deployed $2.5 million to purchase and deliver more than 640,000 donated Alaska seafood meals to individuals and families in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. The Chignik region was one of the Seafood Donation Program’s early partners; in 2020, over 33,000 pounds of Bristol Bay sockeye was delivered to Chignik families unable to harvest salmon due to Chignik’s record-low sockeye salmon returns. Fish for Families aims to address these immediate challenges while also working to address climate change and build a more resilient, equitable, and sustainable (sea)food system for the long term.
ALFA’s executive director, Linda Behnken, said:
It’s become clear the last couple years that disruptions to our local food system are not going away anytime soon. Climate change is affecting salmon abundance and distribution. We need to build a more resilient seafood supply chain and prioritize local consumption of Alaska’s wild fish. We hope that this summer’s Fish for Families project can help build the foundation for more community-driven partnerships and a long-term, self-sustaining Alaska seafood distribution system.
ALFA and ASFT work with a diverse partnership of Tribal organizations, commercial and subsistence fishermen, fish processors, and community organizations. All donations made this summer will go towards purchasing, processing, and shipping salmon to Alaska Native communities. Every $24 donated delivers a salmon to a family in need; every $20,000 raised provides 2,500 pounds of salmon to a community.