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

041614_JKT_house-floor

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

Advertisements

• Sitka Sound Science Center presentation will shed light on impacts of Fukushima radiation in the Pacific Ocean

cooperFukushima

People living along the Pacific Coast, including in Sitka and Southeast Alaska, have been wondering about the impacts of radiation in the food supply ever since the March 2011 earthquake in Japan and Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant meltdown.

Dr. Lee Cooper of the University of Maryland, a Scientist in Residency Fellow at the Sitka Sound Science Center, will discuss the current state of the science on Fukushima radiation and its likely impact on the Gulf of Alaska during a brown-bag lunch presentation from 12:30-1:30 p.m. on Friday, March 14, at the Sitka Pioneer Home Chapel. Bring your lunch and questions to the presentation, which is sponsored by the Sitka Sound Science Center and the National Science Foundation.

According to the Sitka Sound Science Center:

It is projected that dissolved contaminants, particularly the radioactive isotopes of cesium, 137Cs and 134Cs from the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power in Japan, will reach Southeast Alaska this year.  Because the amount of radiation released is uncertain and the accident site is still leaking to some extent, it is difficult to know exactly what the peak concentrations of radioactive cesium will be in local waters, but it is not likely to exceed levels that were observed during the bomb fallout era 40 to 50 years ago. Cesium is chemically very similar to potassium, which is a common ionic salt in seawater, so fortunately the concentration of cesium into the foodweb and into seafood harvested for food is comparatively modest.

Nevertheless, it is important to put into perspective the potential risks involved and communicate this to the public. This talk will summarize the newest scientific information that is available on the impacts of the accident, based upon a special session held in late February at the Ocean Science Meeting in Honolulu and attended by scientists studying Fukushima impacts, ranging from Japan and East Asia to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

For more information, contact Tory O’Connell at 747-8878.

 

• How to weed through the conflicting information about Fukushima radiation and its impacts on Alaska waters

SalmonImage

Alaskans have been worried about their seafood ever since the March 2011 Fukushima earthquake and Japanese nuclear plant problems. It’s understandable that Alaskans are concerned about the safety of the seafood, seaweed and marine mammals in the area. But Alaskans also should note that most of the information posted on social marketing sites just isn’t true.

This NOAA map has been showing up on social media posts with a note that it shows the path of 300 tons of radioactive material entering the ocean each day. This map really shows the probable tsunami paths from the 2011 Tohoku earthquake.

FALSE IMAGE: TSUNAMI WAVES, NOT RADIATION: Many people have posted on social media that this NOAA map shows the path of 300 tons of radioactive material entering the ocean each day. This map really shows the probable tsunami wave heights from the 2011 Tohoku earthquake.

One of the biggest examples of false information usually is accompanied by an official-looking map from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and a note that each day the map shows 300 tons of radioactive material entering the water each day. The map is an official NOAA map, but it doesn’t show radiation. It actually shows the probable tsunami paths from the 2011 Tohoku earthquake. When in doubt, or even if not, don’t be afraid to consult one of the myth-debunker sites such as Snopes.com, which has the details on the real story behind this map.

The Sitka Local Foods Network has been following the situation since it happened, and we even posted an update in March 2012 in hopes of easing people’s worries (many of the links on this page have been updated). The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services also has a site with updates.

In recent weeks, Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins (D-Sitka) did some research, interviewing Dr. Ken Buesseler of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and one of the country’s top researchers on oceanographic radiation. Rep. Kreiss-Tomkins posted his findings in his Jan. 8 constituent newsletter, and that write-up also appeared in several Alaska publications such as the Alaska Dispatch.

010714_Fukushima-Radiation-GraphAlso in January, Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Larry Hartig gave an update to the Alaska Senate’s Natural Resources Committee about what it’s doing to track the radiation, and he said so far the DEC hasn’t seen anything to cause concern. The Ketchikan website Stories In The News also had a follow-up story that included information from Hartic’s testimony and an update from Buesseler, who announced the launch of a new “How Radioactive Is Our Ocean?” website to help crowd-source information about what’s happening along the 5,000-mile Pacific coastline.

Taking things a step further, in January a couple of Seattle media organizations — KPLU and the Seattle Times — ran stories about Seattle fish-broker Loki Fish Co. ran its own tests on Alaska seafood. After the testing, the folks at Loki Fish Co. decided Pacific salmon is safe to eat.