Bristol Bay sockeye could get a boost this year from an expanding seafood sales program organized by the Alaska Marine Conservation Council.
Reds from the region have long been a part of the organization's Catch of the Season program. Between that and AMCC's Kodiak Jig Seafoods brand, the nonprofit distributes five species of wild Alaska seafood in-state, including sockeye, Kodiak bairdi crab, Norton Sound red king crab, rockfish and Pacific cod.
Now AMCC is expanding those efforts, and in 2015, won the Fish 2.0 business plan competition and received a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant to do so, said AMCC executive director Kelly Harrell.
"So our business plan is for the Alaska Community Seafood hub, and that means scaling up the seafood sales work that we've been doing for the last four years," she said.
That includes Bristol Bay reds. AMCC has bought from Naknek Family Fisheries in the past, and Harrell said expansion could mean AMCC buys from additional fishermen in the future.
"We hope that we can expand to working with more fishermen in Bristol Bay," she said. "We've done a lot of work in Bristol Bay over the years, so we like having that connection to the region and telling the story of the region and of course, the amazing wild salmon runs that we have in Bristol Bay that need to be protected for future generations. That's really one of the things we look for in different species that we want to work with, ... what's the story we need to tell to consumers, and that Alaskans need to hear about a region or a fishery."
AMCC got into seafood sales as an offshoot of habitat work.
"We worked for years with local fishermen to map Kodiak bairdi tanner crab habitat around Kodiak Island to help zone those areas that needed to be protected from bottom trawling," she said. "And so we had a really deep connection to the species and to the fishermen, but realized that consumers in Alaska didn't have access to bairdi."
Harrell said the organization has seen plenty of demand for Alaska seafood in the state, and think it's well-positioned to help sell it, in part because they have the infrastructure to tackle distribution, which can be challenging. This past summer, the Catch of the Season program expanded to Fairbanks, where demand for Bristol Bay sockeye was high, Harrell said.
A full-time seafood hub manager will be hired using the USDA grant and the organization hopes to expand to more communities this year.
Last summer, AMCC sold to Anchorage, Homer and Fairbanks. Now they're hoping to add additional Railbelt communities, like Soldotna and Wasilla.
Harrell said the organization also wants to expand the species it can offer.
"People have been asking for halibut, they've been asking for spot prawns, they've been asking for coho, for an array of species we don't yet provide," Harrell said.
Dillingham or another Bristol Bay town might not be at the top of the list for new distribution, but Harrell said it's not off the table.
"I think we need to take stock of the interest in some of the more rural communities, the way that perhaps Full Circle has done," she said. "Definitely, if communities want certain products, we should figure out a way to get them there. I know in rural communities you definitely, especially in salmon-centric communities, you lack some of that access and we should address that."
This story first appeared in The Bristol Bay Times/Dutch Harbor Fisherman and is republished here with permission.