Sitka Tribe of Alaska receives EPA grant to study microplastics in subsistence foods

Sockeye salmon hangs from racks in the smoker.

The Sitka Tribe of Alaska (STA) has been awarded a one-year, $30,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency‘s Environmental Justice Small Grant Program. The grant project, “Microplastics in Tribal Subsistence Foods In Southeast Alaska,” will include the University of Alaska, Mount Edgecumbe High School, the Southeast Alaska Watershed Coalition (SAWC), and Sitka Conservation Society as partners.

Esther Kennedy of the Sitka Tribe of Alaska Resource Protection Department samples water near the Starrigavan Recreation Area dock for marine biotoxins such as paralytic shellfish poisoning. (Photo by Emily Kwong, KCAW-Raven Radio)

“STA will collect water and subsistence food samples from four locations within STA’s traditional territory to test for the presence of microplastics and associated toxins,” Sitka Tribe of Alaska grant administrator Rachel Henderson wrote in an email. “These results will be compared to commercially purchased foods and safety standards. These results will be shared with the public so they can make informed decisions about harvesting traditional foods. Local students will assist with the sampling of local food and water.”

Henderson said Jennifer Hamblen is the project manager for the tribe, and she is working with Jeff Feldspaugh of the tribe’s resource protection department and the tribe’s partner agencies.

“Part of STA’s mission is to help ensure that subsistence resources for STA Tribal Citizens are available and safe,” Hamblen said. “In recent years, there have been many studies and publications from other places, such as British Columbia, about microplastics and their associated toxins having devastating consequences on animals, and potentially affecting the people who consume them. This is a pilot project to see if there are microplastics in subsistence foods in our area and comparing locally collected seafood to seafood available at supermarkets.”

Microplastics, aka phthalates, found at low tide. There are concerns microplastics are getting into subsistence foods and that will impact people’s health. (Photo courtesy of EPA.gov)

University of Alaska Southeast was written in as a project partner and the UAS conference in July is one of the places that STA will present the results, Henderson said. The Southeast Alaska Watershed Coalition (SAWC) has done microplastic water collection on behalf of salmon in the past, and Sitka Conservation Society (SCS) is very invested and knowledgeable about microplastics and their effects on the environment.

“We’ll be collecting shellfish from the Starrigavan estuary to process for microplastic consumption. We will also collect water samples using the methods already established by SAWC,” Henderson said.

While the project is just starting to launch, it has had one setback, Henderson said. “When we wrote the grant, we were going to send the samples to a certified, plastic-free laboratory, such as the University of Alaska Anchorage’s Applied Science, Engineering, and Technology Laboratory. That lab ran out of funding and is no longer operational, so we’re looking for another lab. Right now Jenn’s writing the QAPP (an EPA requirement before an sample collection that has to be approved before we can start work) so we can collect samples and we’ll look at presence/absence of microplastics with students from Mount Edgecumbe High School. We’ll save samples in case we get an opportunity for a larger project and find an appropriate lab to run phthalate samples. There will be photos with MEHS collecting samples and processing samples after the QAPP is approved.”

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UAF Cooperative Extension Service offers Certified Food Protection Manager class by videoconference Oct. 3 in Sitka

Tuesday, Sept. 19, is the registration deadline for a certified food protection manager workshop being taught on Tuesday, Oct. 3, by University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service. This is an all-day statewide class that will be offered by videoconferencing to Delta Junction, Fairbanks, Juneau, Palmer and Sitka.

A certified food protection manager (CFPM) is responsible for monitoring and managing all food establishment operations to ensure that the facility is operating in compliance with food establishment regulations.

A CFPM is knowledgeable about food safety practices and uses this knowledge to provide consumers with safe food, protect public health and prevent food-borne illnesses. Alaska regulations require food establishments to have at least one CFPM on staff.

This course takes place from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (with a half-hour lunch), and participants will take a computer-based exam at the end of the class. The reason the deadline is two weeks before the class is to guarantee course materials reach all the students in time for the class. The cost is $200, and the course will be taught by Julie Cascio of Palmer. Students can register here.

The Sitka videoconference for the class will take place in Room 106 at the University of Alaska Southeast Sitka Campus. To learn more, contact Jasmine Shaw at the Sitka District Office of the UAF Cooperative Extension Service at 747-9440, or contact Julie Cascio at (907) 745-3677 (Palmer number) or jmcascio@alaska.edu, or Melissa Clampitt at (907) 745-3551 or mrclampitt@alaska.edu. Note, this class is taught in English but textbooks are available in Korean, Chinese and Spanish, just contact Julie or Melissa at least three weeks before the class.

Also, the ServSafe book ($70) and certification exam ($75) now are available online, if people want to order the book and study independently without taking the class. Just go to this website and purchase the book and exam items.

UAS Sitka Campus to host its annual class on how to identify Southeast Alaska mushrooms

The University of Alaska Southeast Sitka Campus Office of Continuing Education will host its annual class “Southeast Mushrooms: How to Identify Them.”

This two-day class takes place from 7-8:30 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 7, and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 9, at the UAS Sitka Campus (with field trips). The course fee is $50. Students should dress for the outdoors, and bring waxed paper and a bucket for gathering.

This course is designed to introduce students to the mushroom flora of Southeast Alaska. The focus will be on the use of taxonomic keys for identification of fungi and recognition of both edible and poisonous mushrooms. Cooking and preservation of mushrooms will be discussed. Field trips are followed by in-class identification of collected mushrooms.

There is a maximum of 18 students allowed in this class, and the class may be canceled if at least 10 people don’t pre-register for it. For more information, contact the UAS Sitka Campus Office of Continuing Education at 747-7700. To register, call 1-800-478-6653, Ext. 7700, or go to http://uas.ce.alaska.edu/community-workshops/identifying-southeast-mushrooms.

Check out the July 2017 edition of the Sitka Local Foods Network newsletter

The Sitka Local Foods Network just sent out the June 2017 edition of its monthly newsletter. Feel free to click this link to get a copy.

This month’s newsletter includes brief items about the Sitka Farmers Market kicking off its 2017 season on Saturday (July 1), information about Fourth of July booths co-hosted by the Sitka Local Foods Network and Alaska Native Sisterhood Camp No. 4, and details about a new working group about food security in Sitka and Alaska. Each story has links to our website for more information.

You can sign up for future editions of our newsletter by clicking on the newsletter image in the right column of our website and filling in the information. If you received a copy but didn’t want one, there is a link at the bottom of the newsletter so you can unsubscribe. Our intention is to get the word out about upcoming events and not to spam people. We will protect your privacy by not sharing our email list with others. Don’t forget to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Paralytic shellfish toxin warning issued for Sitka’s North Starrigavan Beach and other Southeast beaches

The SouthEast Alaska Tribal Ocean Research (SEATOR) project, SouthEast Alaska Tribal Toxins (SEATT) partnership and the Sitka Tribe of Alaska Environmental Research Lab (STAERL) on Monday, June 5, issued an advisory warning that people should not eat molluscan shellfish (bivalves such as clams, oysters, scallops, mussels, geoducks, cockles, etc.) harvested at North Starrigavan Beach North in Sitka.

This is one of several recent advisory warnings issued by SEATOR about elevated levels of the paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) toxins above the FDA regulatory limit of 80µg/100g. Recent warnings have been issued for all species of molluscan shellfish at three beaches in Ketchikan (with extremely high levels that could be deadly), Metlakatla, Craig, Kodiak and Hoonah. There also are species-specific warnings issued in Klawock and Skagway.

Harmful algal blooms, such as paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP), typically have not been monitored in Southeast Alaska for subsistence and recreational harvesters of clams, mussels, oysters, cockles, and other bivalves (commercial harvests are tested). Even though many people in Southeast Alaska love to harvest shellfish, eating it comes with some risks. There have been several PSP outbreaks in recent years that sent people to the hospital, and in 2010 two deaths were attributed to PSP and other HABs, such as Alexandrium, Pseudo-nitzchia and Dinophysis.

The PSP advisories are for bivalve shellfish that have been recreationally or subsistence harvested. It does not apply to commercially harvested shellfish, which are tested before they enter the market. The advisory does not apply to other shellfish, such as crabs or shrimp, which do not carry PSP (unless you eat the crab butter or viscera).

The warnings, according to SEATOR, “This does not ‘certify’ any of our monitored sites. Conditions may change rapidly and data is site-specific. Caution should always be taken prior to harvesting.”

SEATOR posts updates and information to its website at seator.org/data, which can help provide Southeast Alaska residents with reliable information so they can choose whether or not to harvest shellfish. In addition to testing water samples weekly from certain Southeast beaches, STAERL also tests samples of butter clams, littleneck clams, and blue mussels (which is STAERL’s indicator species, because of how quickly blue mussels absorb saxotoxins).

In addition to the saxitoxins that cause PSP, the lab in Sitka has been monitoring for other blooms that cause amnesic shellfish poisoning (ASP). PSP and ASP can cause severe health problems, including death in some cases.

Since most beaches in Alaska aren’t tested for harmful algal blooms, SEATOR and the SEATT partnership were formed in October 2014 to train people to test beaches in Southeast Alaska. In April 2015, the Sitka Tribe of Alaska opened a regional lab on Katlian Street, so samples could be tested in Sitka without having to be sent to the Lower 48, which delayed results. By testing for harmful algal blooms, SEATOR and the SEATT partnership hope to be able to provide information so people can make informed choices whether or not to harvest or eat shellfish.

To learn more about harmful algal blooms and how they can raise the risk for PSP and ASP (amnesic shellfish poisoning, which also can be fatal), go to SEATOR’s resources page. If you have shellfish you recently harvested and want to test it, click this link to learn what you need to do to have it tested by STAERL or watch this video. SEATOR also has a new Facebook page, where people can find updates. Please contact STAERL at 747-7395 with any additional questions.

Sitka Kitch to offer a Preserving the Harvest series of food preservation classes this summer

You grew it, harvested it and/or caught it, so now what do you do? The Sitka Kitch community rental commercial kitchen will be offering the Preserving the Harvest class series to teach Sitkans how to store the summer’s bounty so they can use it during the winter. This class series features a community canning session and six classes covering a variety of food preservation methods. Students will learn how to safely preserve their food, so it won’t spoil or cause illness. The classes on schedule are (class titles underlined and in green are direct links to the class registration page):

  • Clear The Freezer; Fill The Pantry5-9 p.m., Tuesday, May 30, Community canning session for your leftover fish, meat, berries, etc. Take home and/or trade what you make with others. We provide the canners, herbs/spices, recipes, three jars, and guided help where needed. Bring additional jars and ingredients, otherwise not provided. Canning session hosted by UAF Cooperative Extension Service. There is a $10 registration fee. Register by Monday, May 29, to make sure it happens. Call Jasmine Shaw of the UAF Cooperative Extension Service at 747-9440 with any questions.
  • Just Dry It: Intro To Food Dehydration6-8:30 p.m., Monday, June 12, taught by Lisa Sadleir-Hart, $27.50 registration fee
  • Rambunctious Rhubarb: Creative Ways To Use Rhubarb6-8:30 p.m., Monday, June 26, taught by Lisa Sadleir-Hart, $27.50 registration fee
  • Simple Pickles and Sauerkraut 6-8:30 p.m., Tuesday, July 11, taught by Lisa Sadleir-Hart, $27.50, registration fee
  • Jam Session: Preserving Jams and Jellies6-8:30 p.m., Monday, July 24, taught by Lisa Sadleir-Hart, $27.50 registration fee
  • Ring Around the Rose Hip: Rose Hip Relish and More6-8:30 p.m., Monday, Sept. 18, taught by Lisa Sadleir-Hart, $27.50 registration fee
  • Venison Jerky6-8:30 p.m., Monday, Oct. 30 (this date may change), taught by Lisa Sadleir-Hart and Jasmine Shaw, $27.50 registration fee

This class series is sponsored by the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC), and the sponsorship will reduce our usual food/supply fees for each class. Also, we still need people to register by Saturday night, May 13, for our Food Budgeting 101 class scheduled for 7-8:30 p.m. on Monday, May 15, at the Sitka Kitch. If we don’t hit our class minimum by Saturday, we’ll have to cancel the class. This class costs $10.

The Sitka Kitch was a project of the 2013 Sitka Health Summit, and the project is coordinated by the Sitka Conservation Society. The Sitka Kitch can be rented to teach cooking and food preservation classes, by local cottage food industry entrepreneurs who need a commercial kitchen to make their products, and for large groups needing a large kitchen for a community dinner. To learn more about how to rent the Sitka Kitch, please go to the website at http://www.sitkakitch.org.

When registering for any Sitka Kitch classes, students should prepay for the class through the Sitka Kitch online registration site, http://sitkakitch.eventsmart.com (click on your class title), using PayPal or a credit/debit card to secure your spot in the class. If you need other payment arrangements, contact Chandler or Clarice of Sitka Conservation Society at 747-7509 to arrange a time when you can pay with cash or check. All classes are $27.50, plus a food/supply fee, except for the Clear Your Freezer, Fill Your Pantry canning session on May 30, which is $10. Unless noted, registration for each class closes at 11:55 p.m. on the Friday before the class.

If you have any questions about the class series, please email sitkakitch@sitkawild.org.

UAF Cooperative Extension Service, Alaska Sea Grant to host online specialty food business class series

The University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service and Alaska Sea Grant program are teaming up to offer a four-session online-only class on how to start and operate a specialty food business. The four classes are from 6-8:30 p.m. on Monday through Thursday, May 15-18, and the classes will cost $50 for all four sessions. To register, go to http://bit.ly/SpecialtyFoodBusiness.

This course outlines the development and management of a successful specialty food business from inception to operation. Participants will learn about the practical application of business planning, obtaining
financing, permitting, feasibility analysis and marketing along with the operational aspects of a specialty food business.

This course will be delivered primarily by lectures, with four homework assignments that are individualized to help you develop an action plan for your business. At the end of this course, the student will understand and use the appropriate managerial and decision-making tools that are needed to start and run a specialty food business.

The course is available statewide from any computer with a reliable connection. We will be using Zoom to deliver class content. Students must have access to a video camera, speakers and microphone to actively participate. To learn more about the system requirements for Zoom, visit https://support.zoom.us/hc/en-us/articles/201362023-System-Requirements-for-PC-and-Mac.

For more information, contact Sarah Lewis of the Juneau District Office of the UAF Cooperative Extension Service at (907) 523-3280, Ext. 1, or sarah.lewis@alaska.edu, or Quentin Fong of the Alaska Sea Grant program at (907) 486-1516 or qsfong@alaska.edu.