Caught by Alaskans for Alaskans is a business concept that bested 170 others in a global fisheries business competition last month at Stanford University in California.
The contest, sponsored by Fish 2.0, awards creative approaches that build demand for sustainable seafood, reduce waste and support fishing towns. The Alaska Community Seafood Hub model, presented by Kelly Harrell of Anchorage, won $5,000 in cash and is in the running for more money to be awarded this month.
Fish 2.0 builds the knowledge and connections needed to increase investment in the sustainable seafood sector, according to its website.
“We noticed that investors were having a hard time finding fisheries deals, and fishery business owners were frustrated that investors had no interest. We created Fish 2.0 to build connections between the groups,” said Monica Jain, Fish 2.0 Founder. “Our goal is to create the business growth needed to drive social and environmental change in the seafood supply chain.”
Harrell, who is executive director of the non-profit Alaska Marine Conservation Council, or AMCC, said: “We told the story of the really unique assets we have in Alaska, which include thousands of small boat fishing families. We have a giant seafood economy that provides one of the largest and most sustainable seafood supplies in the world. But the way our seafood supply chain is structured, it is very difficult to get the seafood harvested locally to our communities here in Alaska, because we are set up to export such large volumes.”
The Walton Family Foundation, a Fish 2.0 sponsor, wrote: “When Kelly Harrell started crafting the idea of the Alaska Community Seafood Hub, she knew that improving business, people’s lives and the environment go hand in hand. Kelly pitched her business model to a room full of investors, ocean and fishing industry experts and grant makers who shared her vision of a sustainable seafood market. She walked away with $5,000 and countless connections to help build a strong community-based fishery and bring high-quality seafood from Alaskan fishermen to local consumers.”
“We often overlook Alaska thinking that people have access to catching their own and a lot do, but in places like Fairbanks and Anchorage, and even in coastal towns, many people don’t. And in the case of species like crab, it’s really not practical to get their own,” Harrell said.
The Alaska Seafood Hub concept expanded upon the Catch of the Season program and the Kodiak Jig Seafoods brand for cod and rockfish that AMCC has operated for several years.
“We began by selling Tanner crab and cod to consumers in Alaska and through wholesale buyers in a way that tells the story of the fishermen, the species, the community where it come it comes from,” Harrell said. “It helps build connections between our fishermen and fishing communities and our seafood consumers and buyers, and generates a higher price for the fishermen. It’s a real win/win.”
About 20 fishermen are involved in the program so far, and they fetch 60 percent more than the regular dock price.
Along with individual buyers, regular customers include the Bear Tooth in Anchorage, Alyeska Resort in Girdwood and Princess Tours Lodges. Harrell said fish offerings are expanding to include Tanner crab from the Bering Sea, king crab from Norton Sound and sockeye salmon.
“This summer we sold salmon from Bristol Bay for the first time in Fairbanks and it was a huge hit,” Harrell said. “People were extremely eager to have seafood caught by Alaskans for Alaskans and we sold thousands of pounds right away to an eager consumer base.”
AMCC’s ultimate goal is to spawn umbrella seafood hubs for local brands in other Alaska fishing towns, such as halibut from the Pribilof Islands.
“We want to tell the story of halibut bycatch in the Bering Sea and how that is potentially putting these small communities out of business in terms of their halibut fishery. People in the state really need to hear it through something they can support and put on their dinner plates,” Harrell said.
In the four rigorous rounds of the competition, Harrell said the judges were most surprised that many Alaskans don’t have access to local seafood, and that Alaska politics and the economy are not more connected to the state’s fishing industry.
Alaska fishermen who hold catch shares of halibut, sablefish and Bering Sea crab pay an annual fee to the federal government to cover management and enforcement costs for those fisheries. The fee, which is capped at 3 percent, is based on dock prices for the fish through September and averaged across the state.
Bills went out in late November to 1,983 longliners for a total coverage cost of $5.6 million, said Kristie Balovich, Budget Officer for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, Alaska Region based in Juneau.
The dockside value of the halibut fishery went up this year while the value of sablefish went down.
“The 2015 halibut landings had an increase in overall value to $107 million, compared to $100 million in 2014. Sablefish had a slight decrease going from $76.7 million to $76.6 million,” Balovich said, adding that dock prices, or ex-vessel prices, were higher for both.
Halibut was at $6.42 per pound this year, and sablefish was at $3.78 per pound. That compares to an average halibut price of $6.36 per pound and $3.59 per pound for sablefish in 2014.
The fee system is different for the Bering Sea crab fisheries.
“NOAA doesn’t track dock prices for crab, only the total value of the fisheries,” Balovich explained.
That added up to $229 million for the 2014/2015 season, an increase of about $300,000 from the previous fishery. The crab catches yielded $3.4 million in coverage costs, which are collected and paid by Bering Sea processors (19 last season) by the end of July.
The coverage fee for the crab fishery increased to 1.48 percent this year and to 3 percent for halibut and sablefish, due to adding more management and enforcement personnel.
“We were able to hire some people so there were some increases in labor for those fisheries,” Balovich said.
Balovich added that Alaska longliners are “great about paying their bills” and that 99.9 percent pay by the Jan. 31 deadline.
There’s one change for all bill payers this year: credit cards are no longer accepted over the phone due to security reasons.
“Everyone has access to their online landings, and if they go into their eFish account, it switches them over to a site called www.pay.gov. “It is very secure and they can pay with a credit card there,” Balovich said.
Begich talks fish fights
Former Alaska Sen. Mark Begich is continuing his fight against genetically modified salmon after its approval last month for U.S. sales by the federal government.
“I think it is a very bad decision,” he said in a phone conversation. “When I was in the Senate I was able to stop it from being moved forward and being approved. So I decided I am no different than any other concerned Alaskan, and I decided to write a letter to every store chain that serves food in major quantities to ask them not to sell that product.”
While many major stores in Alaska, such as Safeway, have pledged to not carry so called Frankenfish, others have remained noncommittal.
In his letter to Walmart president Doug McMillon, Begich wrote: “At a minimum, this product must be labeled so Alaskans can make an informed choice about what they are buying and serving to their families. Consumers have a right to know whether they are eating something from the waters of Bristol Bay, Southeast, Cordova or anywhere else in Alaska…or a test tube…I hope you will join me in continuing that effort without compromising the most sustainable fishing industry in the world that exists right here in Alaska.”
“If the people making this fake fish believe it’s such a good product, then label it,” he fumed on the phone.
Begich broadened the discussion of fish threats to North Pacific waters, which are getting warmer and more acidic.
“You can’t have sustainable fisheries without sustainable waters,” he stressed. “If we don’t have sustainable ecosystems, everything that lives or thrives on it or uses it will be at risk.”
Alaska’s current delegation has voted against every clean air, clean water and climate change measure that has come before Congress, and Begich said it’s time for them “to accept reality.”
“Climate change is real and those who continue to deny it live in a world that doesn’t exist. And the fact that Sen. (Dan) Sullivan, who ran against me, continues to deny it 100 percent is a mistake,” Begich said. “I support the oil and gas industry, but that doesn’t mean you can’t support solid, scientific-based regulations to ensure that our air and waters are protected.”
The former senator criticized the “knee jerk reaction to just say no to everything because it makes a good bullet statement in a TV ad or a brochure.”
“Always opting for the negative is no way to govern,” he continued. “There is so much we should be focused on in the Alaska resource arena, and just being a no voice is not good enough. It should be a yes voice in trying to figure out how to improve everything from fisheries, oil and gas, all of it for the betterment of Alaskans and this country. What’s happening in Washington is the race to the negative, and not a race to getting things done for the long term benefit of the people we represent.”
Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected]