Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association wins $142,500 for deckhand apprenticeship program

Sophie Nethercut is one of about 25 greenhorns who has served a short stint as a crew member on Eric Jordan’s troller, the I Gotta, in recent years. (PHOTOS COURTESY OF ERIC JORDAN)

Over the last couple of years, Sitka’s Eric Jordan has taken about two dozen young people commercial fishing on his troller, the I Gotta. Now, the Sitka-based Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association (ALFA) has adopted this program and expanded it to other boats in an effort to counter the graying of the commercial fishing fleet.

Eric Jordan, back center, poses with crew members (l-r) Alyssa Russell, Sarah Jordan (his wife) and Anya Grenier in front of his troller, the I Gotta.

Last month, ALFA’s Supporting the Next Generation of Alaskan Fishermen through the Deckhand Apprentice Program received a $142,496 award ($69,996 grant and $72,500 matching funds) from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation as part of its Sustainable Fisheries in the United States grant program. The ALFA grant was one of seven grants totaling $766,871 (with $840,887 in matching funds), for a total conservation impact of more than $1.6 million.

“The generous support from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation will allow us to offer more young people an an entry level commercial fishing opportunity,” ALFA Executive Director Linda Behnken said. “Young fishermen face a host of challenges these days, and ALFA is doing what we can to support the next generation of commercial fishermen by supporting entry level opportunities and policy that safeguards the health of our ocean, fisheries and fishing communities.”

According to the report, “The Graying of the Alaskan Fishing Fleet,” in 2014, the average age of a limited entry permit holder was 50 years old, 10 years older than it was in the 1980s. In 2013, only 17 percent of current permits are held by fishermen younger than 40 years old, a decrease from 38 percent in 1980. This has raised concerns there won’t be enough young people to replace the older fishermen when they retire. Deckhand apprenticeships are one way ALFA and other groups are countering the graying of the fleet.

“With support from NFWF, we plan to expand the program to include more boats, crew, and communities,” Behnken said.”Giving young people the opportunity to participate in our commercial fisheries can help us to sustain our fishing communities and create the next generation of resource stewards.”

Cathryn Klusmeier, left, and Jacob Metzger are among the greenhorns who crewed on Eric Jordan’s troller, the I Gotta.

According to the grant profile, “Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association will coordinate and expand a state-wide apprentice program to promote resource stewardship, community viability, and opportunity in Alaska’s commercial fisheries. The project will develop curriculum and resources to guide the program expansion, include additional vessels and fisheries, and promote entry level job opportunities.”

“Finding crew with some experience, who loves fishing in Alaska, is so critical to the future of our individual businesses in the industry as a whole,” Jordan said. “This program gives them the taste of it. Deckhands know they like it, and skippers can recommend them for future employment. It is a win-win for everyone.”

“We are currently developing the curriculum — one for skippers, and one for crew,” said ALFA Communications Coordinator Alyssa Russell, who has crewed on the I Gotta. “We want to give skippers the tools they need to mentor someone, and crew the skills they need to have a successful experience and continued employment.”

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USDA Farmers Market Promotion Program awards two major grants to Alaska food projects

Two Alaska food projects were among 52 nationally to share in $13.4 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program announced this past weekThe competitive grants work to increase domestic consumption of, and access to, locally and regionally produced foods, and to develop new market opportunities for food production operations serving local markets.

Homer-based Cook Inletkeeper was awarded $403,334 to relaunch the Alaska Farmers Market Association and provide a support network for farmers and market managers. Sitka-based Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association (ALFA) won $91,141 to promote the benefits of flash-frozen seafood and marketing for rural seafood producers.

ALFA will provide support for consumer education on the environmental and quality benefits of purchasing frozen seafood, as well as to expand markets for and access to locally-caught seafood. ALFA has been working to study and change American attitudes towards frozen seafood since the 2009 launch of its Community Supported Fishery (CSF) program, Alaskans Own. Alaskans Own provides high quality, frozen seafood to customers in Alaska and the Lower 48.

“Many Alaskans are used to putting up seafood for the winter in their own freezers, and understand the high quality of carefully handled flash-frozen fish,” said Linda Behnken, Executive Director of ALFA.“However, many Americans hold onto the stereotype that fresh is always better than frozen when it comes to seafood. We have been working to show consumers why choosing frozen can be a better choice for quality — and for the environment.”

According to Ecotrust, a conservation organization based in Portland, “23 percent of seafood at supermarkets never makes it the dinner plate and goes to waste.” Frozen seafood often has increased quality and freshness, can reduce waste, and has a lower carbon footprint.

ALFA and community-based fishing partners at Port Orford Seafood and Real Good Fish worked with Ecotrust, Oregon State University, Seafood Analytics, and the Oregon Food Innovation Lab to compare consumer reactions to seafood in a blind taste test. The study allowed consumers to compare “frozen” and “fresh” seafood. The study utilized a new device, created by Seafood Analytics, that uses an electric current to measures freshness.

The results, according to Ecotrust, were telling; “not only did consumers prefer the frozen fish, but the flash-frozen products also rated higher in quality and freshness, as measured by the CQR (Certified Quality Reader).”

With these results in hand and support from USDA, ALFA will create a multi-media toolkit to help seafood producers, processors, and sellers share information on the advantages of flash frozen seafood, helping to establish or diversify their businesses. It will also provide training to producers and fishermen on using the CQR tool to develop quality assurance programs. ALFA will also work with partners at the Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust launch a market-place portal where users can find and purchase local seafood and other sustainably-sourced goods.

The other Alaska grant, to Cook Inletkeeper, will help relaunch the Alaska Farmers Market Association, which was dormant for several years until this spring. The Sitka Local Foods Network submitted a letter of support for this grant proposal, which will provide some support to the Sitka Farmers Market.

“It’s an amazing step forward for local food programs in Alaska,” said Robbi Mixon, Local Foods Director at Cook Inletkeeper and Director of the Homer Farmers Market. “These new funds will be focused on market and producer sustainability, helping markets throughout the state assist participating producers, as well as the markets’ outreach to consumers.”

The project will recreate the Alaska Farmers Market Association, a statewide collaboration, with a targeting pilot effort across the Kenai Peninsula, will identify farmers’ market producer needs and provide specific trainings and support for those networks. The Alaska Farmers Market Association will also provide funding for market manager and farmer trainings, annual statewide conferences, and shared marketing, while collecting baseline data on a number of market metrics.

“Increasing food security and reducing food miles are vitally important to the sustained well-being of our communities around the state,” Mixon said. Mixon also manages the Kenai Peninsula and Anchorage Food Hub, a program of Cook Inletkeeper that provides an online market for 100 percent local foods and crafts. Mixon said, “95 percent of Alaska’s food is currently imported. Purchasing local food supports farms, increases our region’s food security, protects the environment, creates jobs and boosts the local economy.”

Since its creation in 2002, FMPP funding has assisted local producers to grow their businesses by helping them connect directly with the shoppers at farmers markets, roadside stands and through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs. During that time, the number of farmers markets in America has more than doubled from 3,137 to over 8,684 today. FMPP grantees report an average 27 percent increase in vendor sales since receiving their grant, and 94 percent report an increase in first-time market customers.

Alaskans Own Seafood CSF program subscriptions open for the 2017 season

(Photo by Nancy Behnken)

Alaskan’s Own Seafood, which is a community-supported fishery (CSF) program run by the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association (ALFA), has opened and is receiving subscription orders for the 2017 season.

Alaskans Own was the first CSF program in Alaska. Now in its eighth year, AO was created to connect consumers to small boat fishermen, ensure that more fish caught in Alaska stays in Alaska, and create a sustainable source of revenue to support ALFA’s Fishery Conservation Network, which engages fishermen and scientists in conservation and research initiatives.

(Photo by Caroline Lester)

Similar to community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs, CSF programs address an important environmental and socio-economic need by strengthening consumer-producer relationships. By forward-funding a season of seafood, subscribers invest in sustainable harvest and the rural fishermen who catch their fish, as well as supporting the web of seafood-related jobs that provide the economic backbone for our coastal communities.

Alaskans Own has just released its prices, and early bird customers who subscribe before Saturday, April 15, will receive these prices (which are at a 10-percent discount).

Sitka CSF Prices:

  • Four Month half share (5 lbs/month, May-August), $300
  • Four Month full share (10 lbs/month, May-August), $435
  • Six Month half share (5 lbs/month, May-October), $565
  • Six Month full share (10 lbs/month, May-October), $825

Non-Sitka CSF Prices (available in Juneau, Fairbanks, Anchorage, and Seattle):

  • Four Month half share (5 lbs/month, May-August), $330
  • Four Month full share (10 lbs/month, May-August), $480
  • Six Month half share (5 lbs/month, May-October), $605
  • Six Month full share (10 lbs/month, May-October), $885

(Photo by Josh Roper/ASMI)

There are four-month and six-month subscriptions available starting in May. The six-month subscriptions allow people to keep receiving freshly caught seafood through October instead of August, when the traditional four-month subscriptions end. Half-subscriptions also are available. Subscriptions include a mix of locally troll-caught black cod (sablefish), halibut, king salmon, coho salmon, lingcod and miscellaneous rockfish, depending on the commercial fishing season and prices.

(Photo by Josh Roper/ASMI)

“Alaskans Own’s model is unique from other CSFs because it is not only connecting customers to the fishermen that caught their fish, it is supporting a range of fishermen-sourced conservation initiatives,” says Alyssa Russell, ALFA’s Communications Coordinator. “We’re so excited to be bringing customers to another year of sustainably-caught, delicious seafood.”

If you don’t live in one of our CSF cities and are interested in ordering fish in bulk, please feel free to contact Alyssa Russell or Willow Moore at alaskansownfish@gmail.com or 747-3400.

Please purchase your fish by visiting our online store at alaskansown.com

Learn more about our Fishery Conservation Network at alfafish.org

• Northwest Farm Credit Services awards grants to Alaskans Own and Sitka Kitch projects

From left, Linda Behnken of the Alaska Longline Fisherman's Association and Anya Grenier of the Alaskans Own Seafood community supported fishery project receive a check for $4,500 from Michael Wittman of Northwest Farm Credit Services to help promote local seafood for Alaskans.

From left, Linda Behnken of the Alaska Longline Fisherman’s Association and Anya Grenier of the Alaskans Own Seafood community supported fishery project receive a check for $4,500 from Michael Wittman of Northwest Farm Credit Services to help promote local seafood for Alaskans.

image003Northwest Farm Credit Services recently awarded two rural community grants to help fund a pair of local foods projects in Sitka. The Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association received $4,500 for its Alaskans Own Seafood community supported fisheries program, and the Sitka Local Foods Network received $1,975 for a series of basic culinary skills classes to take place in March at the Sitka Kitch community rental commercial kitchen (which is coordinated by the Sitka Conservation Society with assistance from the Sitka Local Foods Network).

“The support of Northwest Farm Credit Services will allow ALFA to improve and expand Alaskans Own so we can provide premium seafood to more rural residents,” said Linda Behnken, ALFA’s executive director.  “We believe healthy fisheries and healthy fishing communities go together and with this grant support we will reinvest in both.”

Alaskans Own connects residents of Alaska’s rural communities with great Alaskan seafood through monthly subscriptions. Subscription sales support ALFA’s research and conservation work to promote sustainable fisheries and sustainable fishing communities. Click here for KCAW-Raven Radio’s coverage of the grant.

From left, Dorrie Farrell and Kristy Miller of the Sitka Kitch community rental commercial kitchen advisory team and Sitka Local Foods Network president Lisa Sadleir-Hart receive a check for $1,975 from Michael Wittman of Northwest Farm Credit Services to support a Sitka Kitch project to teach basic culinary skills to people wanting to get jobs in the food/restaurant industry. The classes will take place in March.

From left, Dorrie Farrell and Kristy Miller of the Sitka Kitch community rental commercial kitchen advisory team and former Sitka Local Foods Network president/interim Sitka Kitch project coordinator Lisa Sadleir-Hart receive a check for $1,975 from Michael Wittman of Northwest Farm Credit Services to support a Sitka Kitch project to teach basic culinary skills to people wanting to get jobs in the food/restaurant industry. The classes will take place in March.

“Sitka Kitch will use the resources to launch a basic culinary training series taught by Chef Kathy Jones (executive chef for the Westmark Sitka Hotel),” said Lisa Sadleir-Hart, Sitka Kitch interim coordinator and former Sitka Local Foods Network board president. “Chef Kathy will model the four-session training on a curriculum from Indianapolis. She sees it as a way to get local Sitkans trained on entry-level culinary skills that could land them jobs in one of Sitka’s many restaurants or food-related businesses.”

The Sitka Kitch basic culinary skills training series is modeled after a similar program designed to help give people work skills for the restaurant/catering industry offered by a hunger relief nonprofit called Second Helpings in Indianapolis. More details about the Sitka Kitch basic culinary skills program will be announced in the next week or so. The classes also will be open to Sitka residents wanting to improve their home culinary skills.

Sitka Kitch is a community wellness project from the 2013 Sitka Health Summit designed to improve food security in Sitka. The different parts of the project include creating a community kitchen Sitka residents can rent to prepare food for their small businesses or to preserve their family harvest of fish, game, or garden veggies; expanding Sitka’s emergency food storage capacity; and providing education about cooking and preserving food and building family emergency food pantries.

Northwest Farm Credit Services is committed to helping rural communities succeed. In 2015, Northwest FCS awarded 62 rural grants totaling more than $134,000 to projects in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington. Since the program’s inception in 2007, the company has presented 464 rural grants totaling more than $948,000.

The next rural grant deadline is Feb. 1, with two other deadline cycles later in the year. If you think your rural project may be eligible for a grant, visit http://northwestfcs.com/Stewardship/Rural-Communities for more information and an application.

Northwest FCS is a financial cooperative providing financing and related services to farmers, ranchers, agribusinesses, commercial fishermen, timber producers, rural homeowners and crop insurance customers in Montana, Idaho, Oregon, Washington and Alaska. Northwest FCS provides approximately $13 billion in loans and is a member of the Farm Credit System, a nationwide network of borrower-owned lending institutions that provide approximately $221 billion in loans to rural America. For more information, go to http://northwestfcs.com.

• Kettleson Library to screen Cooking Channel’s “Hook, Line and Dinner” show featuring Sitka

"Hook, Line and Dinner" TV show host Ben Sargent, of the Cooking Channel, showed up in costume to participate in the Sitka Local Foods Network's Running of the Boots fundraiser on Sept. 24, 2011.

"Hook, Line and Dinner" TV show host Ben Sargent, of the Cooking Channel, showed up in costume to participate in the Sitka Local Foods Network's Running of the Boots fundraiser on Sept. 24, 2011.

Sitka residents who missed the “Hook, Line and Dinner” show’s episode about Sitka are invited to watch the Cooking Channel show in a free public screening at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 6, at Kettleson Memorial Library.

The show, which originally aired nationally Feb. 23 and 26 on the Cooking Channel, recounted a September trip to Sitka by host Ben Sargent. Unfortunately, the Cooking Channel is not available on any of the GCI Cable TV packages, so many Sitka residents missed seeing the episode.

The show features a fishing trip with Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association Executive Director Linda Behnken and her family, cooking with Chef Colette Nelson of Ludvig’s Bistro, a visit to the Alaska Raptor Center, and then Ben participates in the Running of the Boots fundraiser for the Sitka Local Foods Network and eats some black cod tips cooked by Sitka Local Foods Network President Kerry MacLane.