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Bring our fish home

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Trawl bycatch/NOAA Fisheries

More than 36,000 pounds of prized Alaska salmon and halibut now sitting in Seattle could be headed north again if the Fairbanks Community Food Bank can raise the money to cover the cost of shipping.

The fish is bycatch that Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea trawlers are required to keep and process instead of tossing overboard as “discards” while mining the sea for pollock and other bottomfish. The trawlers, many of them Seattle based, are not allowed to sell halibut and salmon in the open market because that would encourage them to fish for halibut and salmon.

And other commercial fishermen, subsistence fishermen and anglers want those particular fish.

All of which could work to the advantage of the Food Bank; it says on its Facebook page that is in line for thousands of pounds of high-quality fish products for 32 cents per pound, which is one heck of a deal.

Alaska halibut filets were going for $29.99 per pound in Seattle’s Pike Place Fish Market on Thursday. Alaska salmon prices started at $22.99 a pound and went up, though a four-pack of pink salmon burgers, weight unspecified, could be had for $9.99.

The Food Bank reported it can get 10-pound boxes of salmon burgers sure to be made from a higher grade of salmon than the lowly humpy for $3.10 a box. Pink, or humpback salmon, have the lowest fat content of the five species of salmon regularly caught in the 49th state, and for that reason are considered least tasty and nutritious.

Salmon fat, high in omega-3 fat acids, is considered healthfull unlike animal fat which has been judged less than the best thing to put in your body.

The Food Bank posted that “we are currently serving over 500 children each week in the BONE BUILDERS project, plus other children in food box programs, and this will be a valuable addition to those programs.”

About 20 percent of Alaska kids live in homes that may not have enough food, according to the Food Bank of Alaska. It is one of those great ironies in a state where obesity, a problem everywhere in America today, has become an epidemic.

Thanks to dirty offshore Alaska fisheries and joint government-public efforts to clean them up, Alaskans have a chance to do something about at least one of those problems. A $100 contribution, according to the Fairbanks Food Bank, will make 320 pounds of seafood available in the Interior Alaska community.

The fish is provided by Seashare, a Seattle-based nonprofit organization that says it was begun by “a small group of commercial fishermen in Alaska who took unintentionally caught fish (known as bycatch) that were required by law to be thrown back into the sea, and gave those fish – vital, healthy protein – to food banks.

“Over the past 20 years, SeaShare has grown its donations far beyond our original bycatch program. Now 90 percent of our seafood is first-run, marketable product, donated by generous fishermen and processors around the country. They believe in the power of seafood to help those served by food banks and feeding centers.”

A well-meaning program that provides some good public-relations for the trawl fleet that works the waters off Alaska, SeaShare does, however, leave a thinking person wondering what happens if the offshore fisheries are cleaned up to eliminate bycatch.

“(These) fish could be a significant source of nutrition – badly needed protein – to help fight hunger,” the organization says on it website. “Because SeaShare’s goal isn’t just to feed people, but to use seafood to feed people well.”

Donations to the Fairbanks Food Bank can be made here: https://www.fairbanksfoodbank.org/index.cfm/m/7/Donate!/

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