• Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins of Sitka introduces bill to allow donations of fish and game to nonprofit meal programs

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Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins (D-Sitka) is the prime sponsor of a tripartisan bill that will allow nonprofit meal programs — such as those found at schools, hospitals and senior centers — to serve donated fish and game from sport and subsistence harvesters.

The bill, HB 179, is co-sponsored by seven other legislators — four Republicans (Cathy Muñoz of Juneau, Charisse Millett of Anchorage, Louise Stutes of Kodiak and Tammie Wilson of North Pole), two Democrats (Neal Foster of Nome and Sam Kito III of Juneau), and an Independent (Dan Ortiz of Ketchikan). The was introduced on April 1 and already has hearings set for next week in the resources (Monday, April 6) and fisheries (Tuesday, April 7) committees. If those committees pass the bill, it could go before the House floor for a vote as early as late next week.

“Because of that broad support, this bill is in not just the fast lane, but in the Autobahn-style fast lane,” Kreiss-Tomkins told the Daily Sitka Sentinel. “This bill could go from being introduced to a vote on the floor in eight or nine days.”

Kreiss-Tomkins said the bill was inspired in part by Sitka’s Fish to Schools program, which allows commercial fishermen to donate locally caught seafood to local schools so it can be served in student lunches. However, many parts of the state don’t have commercial fisheries, and Alaska law currently bars food service organizations funded by state or federal meal programs from serving subsistence- and sport-harvested fish and game, even if it is donated.

In the sponsor statement for the bill, Kreiss-Tomkins writes:

Hunting and fishing is at the heart of our shared heritage as Alaskans. Every Alaskan looks forward to the season he or she can again fill the freezer with salmon, moose, caribou, seal, or berries. Alaskans happily share this food with family, children, and elders.

This sharing is not possible in our public institutions, however. Well-meaning state laws intended to prevent the commercialization of wild game have also largely prevented children in schools and elders in hospitals and senior centers from eating the traditional Alaska foods that we treasure. As a result, even though we are surrounded by some of the best food in the world, our children eat corndogs rather than caribou at school lunch; our elders are served spaghetti rather than seal.

This action follows a 2013 amendment U.S. Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) included in an agriculture bill that removed barriers that previously prohibited American Indians and Alaska Natives from serving traditional foods in hospitals, elder care facilities and schools. The amendment authorized the U.S. Department of Agriculture to allow for the donation and serving of traditional foods, which meet specific safety standards, in public facilities that primarily serve American Indians and Alaska Natives.

In his sponsor statement, Kreiss-Tomkins writes:

The bill also ensures traditional wild foods donated to and served by food service programs are safe to eat. The Department of Environmental Conservation already has regulations in place providing for the safe handling and processing of many traditional wild foods. HB 179 affirms the Department’s authority to oversee the safety of these foods.

HB 179 will nourish Alaska’s children and elders, both physically and spiritually. It will limit the amount of expensive and unhealthy processed food shipped to communities that have incredible food available just a short boat or snowmachine ride away. Children will develop an appreciation where their food comes from and elders will be able to keep eating the foods they love.

• HB 179 — Traditional Foods Bill

• HB 179 — Traditional Foods Bill Sponsor Statement

• Sitka subsistence herring egg harvest in progress

Michael Baines prepares hemlock trees and branches before they are placed in the water to catch herring spawn (Photo taken by Ed Ronco of KCAW-Raven Radio)

Michael Baines prepares hemlock trees and branches before they are placed in the water to catch herring spawn (Photo taken by Ed Ronco of KCAW-Raven Radio)

If it’s snowing in April, it probably means it’s time for the subsistence herring egg harvest in Sitka. This is one of the most important signs of spring in Sitka, especially for the Tlingít, Haida and Tsimshian people who lived in Southeast Alaska long before the first Europeans showed up.

On the KCAW-Raven Radio news Tuesday, KCAW reporter Ed Ronco reported on a trip he took with Sitka Tribe of Alaska Vice Chairman Michael Baines and his sister, Betty Baines, to place hemlock trees and branches into Sitka Sound, near Kasiana Island, to collect the herring spawn. The story link includes an audio postcard, where Michael Baines discusses the herring roe’s importance to the Native culture, and a few photos of the hemlock branches and trees being prepared. The herring eggs will collect on the branches, which will be pulled from the water a few days later, hopefully with a thick mass of roe. (Editor’s note: On Friday there was a follow-up story featuring the fishing vessel Julia Kae, skippered by Steve Demmert, which has been distributing herring eggs to local residents of Sitka and surrounding communities.)

The herring harvest is an amazing time in Sitka, because it seems like every species comes to town for the herring. There are more whales, eagles, sea gulls, sea lions, etc., around town, and even halibut and salmon are looking for meals of herring eggs. Pauline Duncan produced this Tlingít curriculum about herring geared toward younger students for the Alaska Native Knowledge Network. The blog Kiksadi News by Heen Kweix’ (Bob Gamble) tells how subsistence herring eggs are harvested and prepared (scroll down to the second item).

There also is a large commercial harvest of herring just before the subsistence herring roe harvest. The commercial harvest this year had a record guideline harvest of 18,293 tons, and finished just 550 tons short of that goal. The growing commercial harvest has put a lot of pressure on the relatively small subsistence harvest, in 2005 only 72,000 pounds (not tons) were taken out of a target range of 105,000 to 158,000 pounds. Sitka Tribe of Alaska regularly submits proposals to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (which manages both the commercial and subsistence fisheries) to increase the subsistence harvest, but the proposals have not been passed. The subsistence herring eggs are used not just in Sitka, but all over the state and they are a popular trading subsistence food (for example, a Tlingít in Sitka might swap herring eggs with an Iñupiat for caribou meat from the Kotzebue area, since caribou is an item not found in Southeast Alaska).

• Capital City Weekly features Sitka Farmers Market Table of the Day, Running of the Boots fundraiser for Sitka Local Foods Network

Screenshot of Capital City Weekly page about Mike Wise winning the Table of the Day Award at the final Sitka Farmers Market of the summer

Screenshot of Capital City Weekly page about Mike Wise winning the Table of the Day Award at the final Sitka Farmers Market of the summer

Click here to see this week’s Capital City Weekly coverage of Mike Wise of Raven’s Peek Roasters and Sailor’s Choice Coffee winning the Table of the Day Award for the final Sitka Farmers Market of the summer on Sept. 12.

Click here to read a notice in this week’s Capital City Weekly about the Running of the Boots on Saturday, Sept. 26.

For those of you who will be in Juneau and not in Sitka on Saturday for the Running of the Boots, click here to read about the Autumn Garden Party and Wine Tasting event on Saturday at the Jensen-Olson Arboretum up in Juneau.

In a local foods story from the Northwest Arctic, Kotzebue author/photographer Seth Kantner (author of “Ordinary Wolves” and “Shooping for Porcupine”) writes an essay for the Alaska Dispatch Web site about hunting caribou to provide meat for his family.

Finally, we have two stories about the role salmon played in the development of two Southeast Alaska communities — Ketchikan and Pelican. Ketchikan’s Dave Kiffer writes one of his regular history columns for the Stories in the News Web site about how Ketchikan became “the canned salmon capital of the world.” In the Capital City Weekly, Norm Carson writes a story about how a cold storage plant helped Pelican “settled closest to the fish.”