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Trump budget delivers body blows to Alaska fisheries

Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney holds a briefing on President Trump’s FY2018 proposed budget, which included steep cuts for NOAA. (Jim Bourg / Reuters)

The 2018 budget unveiled May 23 by the Trump administration is bad news for anything that swims in or near U.S. waters.

The Trump budget will cut $1.5 billion from the U.S. Commerce Department, with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration taking the hardest hit.

The NOAA budget for its National Marine Fisheries Service operations, research and facilities would be slashed by about $43 million, eliminating NOAA's coastal research efforts as well as its Sea Grant program.

The Trump dump also includes pulling the budget from NOAA's Coastal Zone Management Program and the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund, which targets recovery of West Coast and Alaska salmon runs.

Funding for management and enforcement of U.S. catch share programs, such as halibut, sablefish and Bering Sea crab, would be cut by $5 million.

Budgets for Coastal Ecosystem Resiliency Grants, Interjurisdictional Fisheries Grants, the Chesapeake Bay project, the Great Lakes Restoration Project and the National Estuary Program also would be eliminated.

Another $193 billion would be cut from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program over 10 years. SNAP is a program used by more than 42 million needy Americans to supplement food purchases and often includes government-purchased seafood.

Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney told McClatchy News that the Trump administration "looked at the budget process through the eyes of the people who were actually paying the bills."

Next up, pollock patties

A freezer van is portside again at Dillingham, this time filled with frozen Alaska pollock patties. It's the third fish van to tie up at Dillingham in the past year from SeaShare, a nonprofit that offers seafood to needy families throughout the region.

"We've distributed about 200,000 pounds of seafood to needy Alaskans over the past year, but it's very hard to reach some of the Western Alaska communities because … it gets really expensive," said Jim Harmon, director of the nonprofit group. "Last year we purchased a freezer container and filled it with frozen seafood in Seattle and shipped it north on an AML (Alaska Marine Lines) barge to Dillingham and installed it at the port there."

SeaShare is the only nonprofit in the U.S. dedicated to bringing seafood to food banks. Since 1994, when it began as a "bycatch to food banks" effort, it's donated more than 210 million servings of seafood and provided the logistical framework to get it to needy Americans across the nation.

In remote places like Dillingham, Harmon said, a true partnership helps pull it off.

"The Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation was the champion that helped pull this together," Harmon said. "They issued a grant to pay for the labor that the Bristol Bay Native Association needed to coordinate the downstream distribution for us. Peter Pan came through with a vanload of sockeye and chinook salmon and Ocean Beauty has made donations. It's community helping community."

"SeaShare's seafood will feed many low-income families. Currently, we are feeding roughly 272 households in 15 communities in the Bristol Bay region," said Barbara Nunn, Food Bank manager at Bristol Bay Native Association.

The first two Dillingham shipments included salmon; the van tied up now holds 7,000 pounds of lightly breaded, 4-ounce portions of frozen Alaska pollock.

"Pollock is the biggest fish in the world that nobody knows about. It's not something we normally send to Alaska," Harmon explained, "but the At-Sea Processors Association donates 250,000 pounds of whitefish blocks every year and Trident converted them into breaded portions."

Bethel is the next Western Alaska seafood hub SeaShare is eyeing for hunger relief.

"A lot of these coastal communities have fisheries, and they ship all the fish out. Then they import expensive food that, if it's frozen, has to be air freighted out there, which is very expensive," Harmon said. "If we can help with a distribution framework by putting a freezer there and use surface freight rather than air, we can ship larger quantities and let them distribute it to outlying communities."

Can herring dining catch on?

Reintroducing mild-tasting, nutrient-packed herring to American menus is the goal of Seattle restaurateurs during next month's Northwest Herring Week. The event, which began with eight chefs three summers ago, has nearly doubled last year's participation.

"I think we're going to cut it off at 60," said Bruce Schactler, food aid director for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, an event sponsor. "I believe there are eight different James Beard Award winners taking part with their restaurants. So it's turning out to be quite the high-profile thing. That's good when you're trying to re-create a market."

Herring Week also has spread beyond Seattle to restaurants in outlying regions this year.

"We've been able to add more people over on the Bellevue side and as far north as Woodinville," Schactler said.

Five thousand pounds of herring fillets are being donated to the restaurants by North Pacific Seafoods from the recent fishery at Togiak.

Alaska's total herring catches top 30,000 tons each year and are valued primarily for the roe from female fish. Herring also is used as bait, but much of it, especially the males, is turned into fish meal. Globally, herring catches can top 4 million tons. The fish is a meal staple in other countries.

A McDowell Group study showed that Norwegian fishermen can fetch more than $1.40 a pound for herring. Last year in Alaska, though, the average price of baitfish to fishermen was 18 cents a pound — and just a penny a pound for roe herring.

Herring Week gives diners the opportunity to experience herring in an array of high-end dishes.

"Everything from fritters to pickled and cured to grilled and everything in between," Schactler said, adding that the annual event could soon expand on the West Coast and to Chicago and other locales.

Northwest Herring Week runs June 19-25. See a lineup of herring dishes at