“Fish for Families” wraps up summer of salmon distributions

Project delivered salmon to Alaska Native communities experiencing record-low salmon returns.

In July and August, the Fish for Families project delivered more than 14,000 pounds of Bristol Bay sockeye salmon to families in the Chigniks and Yukon River regions where communities saw record-low wild salmon returns and subsistence fisheries were shut down, leaving many Alaska Native families without access to one of their most important sources of food.

In response to the summer’s low salmon returns and the growing demand for donated salmon throughout Alaska, the Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust (ASFT) collaborated with the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association (ALFA) and small-boat fishermen around the state to launch the Fish for Families initiative to help ensure that Alaska’s Native communities could continue to practice their cultural traditions and way of life.

In order to help redistribute the abundance of wild salmon around the state, Fish for Families focused on sourcing salmon from Bristol Bay, which experienced a record-breaking run of 78 million sockeye salmon this summer–a stark contrast to the Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers where Chinook, chum, and coho populations are at all-time lows.

Fish for Families’ first salmon distributions this summer took place in the Chigniks where approximately 5000 pounds of Bristol Bay sockeye was flown in and distributed to local families impacted by reduced salmon harvest.

The Fish for Families project then turned to the Yukon region and worked with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and other regional partners to help deliver 8,000 pounds of Bristol Bay sockeye to several Yukon River communities, including Anvik, Grayling, Holy Cross, and Shageluk, with plans to deliver an additional 3,000 pounds of salmon to St. Mary’s.

“It was really important to us that we expand our salmon distributions to the Yukon where they are facing a true food security crisis due in part to climate change’s impacts on our marine ecosystem and the health of our wild salmon runs. We recognize that this summer’s salmon donations are a band-aid at best and that we ultimately need to address the underlying causes of these devastating declines,” said Linda Behnken, Executive Director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association and ASFT Board President. “Through the Fish for Families project, we hope to meet these short-term needs while at the same time build a network of like-minded fishermen, processors, communities, and organizations that are committed to building a more resilient and equitable food system in Alaska that supports the long-term well-being of Alaskans.”

“When others are in need, Alaskans pull together and support one another. We couldn’t be more thankful and appreciative for the fish donation. It not only fed our families but our hearts as well. Right now our families are hurting because the fish have not returned and we cannot fish like we normally would. The devastation of the salmon population has a direct impact on our lives and quality of life,” said Sonta Roach, Shageluk Native Village Tribal Member. “I hope we can all work together to increase our fish population and get people back on the water and fishing like normal. Those are the days I hope for and look forward to.”

To help fund the summer’s salmon distributions, the Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust launched a GoFundMe campaign for the Fish for Families project and secured donations from foundations and partners, including the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, Bristol Bay Native Corporation, Catch Together, and Alaska Conservation Foundation.

In addition, other local Alaskan businesses helped with logistics support, seafood procurement, and donated transportation, including Northline Seafoods, Grant Air, Ryan Air, Alaska Pride Air and Everts Air.

The Fish for Families project is a collaboration of community-minded fishermen, businesses, and organizations, including the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust, Northline Seafoods, North Soul Salmon, Net to Table Seafoods, Catch Together, Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, Copper River Fish Market, Boreal Sockeye, Yukon River Drainage Fisheries Association, SalmonState, and the Businesses for Conservation and Climate Action.

For more information about the Seafood Donation Program, including the Fish for Families GoFundMe campaign: https://www.alfafish.org/seafood-donation-program