Laine Welch: Fisheries give generously to food banks, education

Laine Welch

Want to know at a glance how many fishing boats call the Kenai Peninsula Borough home? It's 1,089. Or what percentage of Wrangellites fish for a living? Just more than 15 percent. Or how many skippers plus crew fish out of Juneau? Seven hundred and five.

To help policymakers and the public learn more about how the seafood industry fits into the state's economy, the United Fishermen of Alaska compiled Fishing Fact sheets for 26 communities, plus statewide tallies for Alaska and Washington.

One misconception the data puts to rest is that money from fishing only benefits the communities where fish cross the docks. In fact, seafood landing and business taxes are split 50/50 between the port where the fish are delivered and the state of Alaska, to be spent by the Legislature to benefit residents across the state.

The fact sheets show that Kodiak -- home to 690 fishing boats -- received more than $1.6 million in fisheries taxes in FY 2012, as did the state. The Kenai Peninsula Borough, which claims more than 1,000 fishing boats, added another $1.8 million. Sitka, Cordova and Petersburg each contributed more than $1 million to the state.

The Aleutians East Borough, which includes Akutan, Cold Bay, False Pass, King Cove, Nelson Lagoon and Sand Point, added another $4 million, while Unalaska/Dutch Harbor topped them all, putting more than $8.5 million in fisheries taxes. Overall, the seafood industry put $90 million into state coffers through the 2012 fiscal year.

The data covers how many people catch and process fish in each community, their earnings, the vessels and permits owned by region, support industries and much more. Check it out at

Pollock pat on the back

Speaking of contributions, the Pollock Conservation Cooperative was recognized this month for its annual contributions to the University of Alaska Fairbanks, which total more than $13 million since 2000, the largest donation in university's history. The cooperative includes member companies of the At-Sea Processors Association, whose boats fish mid-water gear in the Bering Sea.

The group formed a catch share cooperative in 1998. Shortly after they partnered with the university to develop a marine research grants program, and to support a faculty position within the School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences. Each year, processor association members contribute $1 million to help sustain and expand the programs.

Fish feeders

SeaShare, which got its start in the late 1990s in Alaska as a "bycatch-to-food-banks" program has become one of the largest protein donors in the nation. The group has the backing of federal fish managers. In the last two years, an increase in the number of boats and processors has allowed SeaShare to expand its donations to food banks in Fairbanks, Kotzebue, Dutch Harbor, Juneau and Galena.

Some recent highlights: The Coast Guard flew six pallets of halibut from Kodiak to Kotzebue. Lynden shipped a truckload of salmon steaks from Seattle to Fairbanks. About 13,000 pounds of salmon were delivered to the Bellingham (Wash.) Food Bank. Another 6,000 pounds of breaded salmon were donated to the Millionaire Club and the Union Gospel Mission in Seattle. Some 43,000 pounds breaded pollock portions were donated to the Oregon Food Bank, and 1,100 pounds of canned salmon were donated to Helpline House on Bainbridge Island, Wash.

SeaShare also recently received 400,000 pounds of donated salmon and pollock.

"That's great news for the hungry families we serve," said director Jim Harmon. "But before we can ship them out, the salmon has to be steaked and re-packed, and the pollock blocks require re-processing into breaded portions. Generous companies have offered discounted processing, but even with their help SeaShare will still incur about 42 cents a pound to 'finish' these donations."

Celebrate Seven Fishes

The Feast of the Seven Fishes is an Italian-American Christmas Eve celebration that typically consists of seven different seafood dishes, although some families celebrate with up to 13 dishes.

The celebration commemorates the wait for the midnight birth of Jesus on Christmas Day. The long tradition dates from the Roman Catholic practice of abstinence -- in this case, refraining from the consumption of meat on the eve of certain holy days. Observant Catholics would instead eat fish, typically fried in oil.

There are many hypotheses for what the number "7" represents. Most believe it stems from the Bible, in which seven is the most repeated number and appears more than 700 times. Regardless of your reason for the season, celebrate Alaska's seafood at Christmas and all year!

Laine welch