Kids approval of fishy school lunches

PHOTO/Journal file

On any given month in Alaska 7,260 fishermen are out on the water plying their trade. That number jumps to 20,137 per month at the peak of salmon season each summer. Add in jobs in seafood processing, transportation, management and other support services and it brings the number of fishing industry related jobs to at least 54,000 a month.

Those are just a few of the findings revealed by the state Labor Department in the November issue of Alaska Economic Trends, which tracked employment in the fishing industry from 1988 through 2007.

Fish harvesting jobs have proven tough to track because they don’t generate payroll records and other documents used to calculate employment in other industries. The state has projects underway to compile more information on the working profiles of the “boots on deck” fishermen, and their economic importance to coastal communities.

A sketch of the findings shows that Alaska’s fish harvesting employment decreased slightly in 2007, losing 54 jobs, a 0.7 percent drop. Fish harvesting jobs decreased by 17 percent, or 1,446 jobs, since 2000. The biggest drop occurred between 2001 and 2002 when employment fell by 791 jobs, mostly due to depressed salmon markets.

Salmon provided more than half of all fishing jobs, and 30 percent of those workers were on the job at Bristol Bay. Bristol Bay draws more fishermen than any other fishery in the state - 2,303 permits fished in 2007.

Groundfish landings in Alaska waters topped 4 billion pounds and generated 1,182 jobs in 2007; the halibut fishery put another 1,246 fishermen to work.

Alaska’s largest crab fisheries in the Bering Sea generated 418 jobs in 2007 - a 40 percent drop from 2002 when the fisheries provided 692 jobs. The crab fleet dropped from 252 boats in 2003 to about 75 boats for king and snow crab in 2007.

That’s due to the rationalized crab quota share program that was implemented in 2005. Conversely, crab fishing jobs in the Southeast region, the state’s second largest producer, has fluctuated little since 2003.

In all, Alaska’s fishing industry contributed $770 million to the state’s GDP in 2007 - a contribution that would be higher but for the big portion that goes south with nonresident workers and seafood companies. Seafood accounted for fully half of Alaska’s total exports in 2006 and 2007, valued at $2 billion.

Find the fishing industry employment report at

Trendy new lunch entrees made from Alaska pollock got “kid approved” at schools in Fairbanks and Kenai. The selections, which were taste tested in November, include po’boy sandwiches, fish strips with dips, salads and a FBLT.

“Many people think that getting fish into Alaska schools should be easy because it is a fish-producing state,” said Pat Shanahan, program director for the Genuine Alaska Pollock Producers trade group. “But the schools have the same challenges that any in the Lower 48 face - getting a product that kids really like at an affordable price. It’s not a slam dunk.”

For three years GAPP has worked with national school nutrition programs to explain the best seafood buying tips, and has developed six snazzy new recipes.

“I think our industry has been a little behind in updating its recipes for school lunches. Now we’ve got a whole range of options along the lines of what you’d find in a normal restaurant,” Shanahan said.

The Baja salad - made with spicy, cornmeal crusted fish strips and served in a taco shell bowl - was the favorite at North Star High School, said Amy Rouse, director of nutrition services for the Fairbanks school district.

“The kids want something a little more adult. When the fish is cooking the whole place smells like Doritos. The kids love it,” Rouse said.

The pollock entrees are the first fish item ever used in Fairbanks schools. Rouse said the fish recipes are easy to adapt with ingredients on hand, and the mild taste and affordability of Alaska pollock make it especially appealing for school lunch programs.

“We plan to permanently add at least two of the fish items to our menu next year,” Rouse said.

Alaska pollock entrees are also on school menus in Seattle and Houston. Shanahan said GAPP is also getting nibbles from several other school districts, both in and outside of Alaska. The group also is preparing a seminar called Making Fish Affordable for a national conference to address spiraling food costs.

“It’s particularly complicated for schools because more students are signing up for the federal free and reduced lunch programs, and food costs are going up at the same time. We want them to know that fish does not have to be eliminated from their menus,” she said.

Shanahan suggested that Alaska schools partner to reduce food costs.

“Because of their remoteness it is really beneficial for the schools to combine their buying power and transportation costs on food items and I know they work closely to do that. So I’m hoping they’ll be able to take advantage of the success this program is having and make it even more affordable to their schools.”

Alaska fishermen who hold quota shares of halibut, sablefish (black cod) and crab pay an annual fee to the federal government to cover the costs of managing and enforcing those fisheries.

The fee is based on the dock prices throughout each fishery and averaged across the state. Bills are in the mail to 2,302 Alaska longliners, down 80 from last year, said Troie Zuniga, fee coordinator at NOAA Fisheries in Juneau.

The overall value for halibut is $175 million and about $69 million for black cod. That’s $3 million higher than the 2007 value for halibut and $7 million higher for black cod, Zuniga said.

For both fisheries, the 1.4 percent fee is up slightly from last year (1.2 percent), and yielded $3.4 million for coverage costs. Fee managers collect the catch data through September and don’t include the most recent prices. But the fish prices for 2008 were up across the board.

This year’s average price for halibut was $3.70 per pound and $2.58 for black cod. That compares to $3.49 and $2.08 from last year, Zuniga said.

For Bering Sea king and Tanner crab, the 2007-08 fishery had a landing value of $202 million, as reported by 20 registered crab receivers. Price per pound information for the crab is confidential to the receivers.

Find the IFQ reports and pay fees online at Payments are due by Jan. 31.

11/15/2016 - 11:55am