Sitka commercial troller Eric Jordan discusses the fishing industry with local students during a Fish To Schools have lunch with a fisherman event (photo courtesy Sitka Conservation Society)
(The following was submitted as a letter to the editor that ran in the Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2020, edition of the Daily Sitka Sentinel)
Sitka’s Fish to Schools program is celebrating a decade of bringing locally caught seafood lunches into all of Sitka’s schools. While the program typically relies solely on donations from local fishermen, Sitka Producers Cooperative (SPC) and Sitka Sounds Seafoods, (SSS) this year the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association (ALFA) will also be purchasing fish. We’re grateful that ALFA’s investment in food security will ensure that Sitka’s kids have access to nourishing foods, while circulating money in the local economy and taking pressure off of fishermen during a challenging summer.
The coho donation drive will operate as usual from Aug. 15 to Sept. 15, and all contributions are welcome and appreciated. Sitka’s fishermen are the heart and soul of the Fish to Schools program and this program wouldn’t exist without their generosity and dedication to feeding the next generation of ocean stewards.
Linda Behnken, Executive Director of ALFA, said on the program, “Sitka fishermen and local processors SPC and Sitka Sound Seafoods have long supported Fish to Schools and have donated generously over the years. ALFA/ASFT (Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust) are grateful to be in a position this year to support the purchase of seafood for schools to take the pressure off Sitka fishermen and processors who are reeling from the impacts of COVID-19.“
The Sitka Fish to Schools program brings locally caught seafood lunches and salmon-focused classroom curricula into schools. The mission of this program is to deepen youth understanding of local seafood resources and teach children that salmon require respect in both harvest and habitat. Fish to Schools lays the groundwork for Sitka’s youth to discover how the commercial fishing industry operates and inspires students to support or become involved in one of Southeast Alaska’s most important economic sectors. Having access to local seafood reminds us how lucky we are to be Alaskans!
“Ten years of Fish to Schools in Sitka has flown by. The best part of being involved in this program is witnessing how many community members care about our local kids and want to help this program succeed. To me, Fish to Schools really exemplifies how wonderful our community is,” longtime program supporter Lexi Fish said. She continued, “my daughter was a kindergartener last year and loved eating the school lunch on Wednesdays — salmon burgers were her favorite.”
Since it became a community wellness project at the 2010 Sitka Health Summit, the Fish to Schools program has been a partner-rich endeavor. Local processors including Sitka Sound Seafoods and the Seafood Producers Cooperative, the Sitka School District, Mount Edgecumbe High School, the SEER School, Head Start — and in particular the cafeteria teams at those facilities — along with community members Lexi Fish and Beth Short-Rhoads have all been key players in realizing this initiative from the ground up. We’re happy to expand this list this year to include ALFA. And of course, the program would not be possible without such strong support from the local fishermen who donate their catch to the program, nourishing students with the Omega-3s and other vitamins wild salmon provide.
To donate, tell scale operators how many fish you would like to donate as you offload at Seafood Producers Cooperative or Sitka Sound Seafoods. If fishermen have yelloweye rockfish overage, they are welcome to donate them to Fish to Schools as well. If you would like to donate to Fish to Schools, please contact Heather Bauscher of Sitka Conservation Society at firstname.lastname@example.org or 747-7509 for more information.
Sitka Conservation Society