This Thursday and Friday, several Alaska organizations are helping deliver 12,000 pounds of donated Bristol Bay sockeye salmon to more than 400 Alaska Native Elders and families in the Anchorage area who were unable to harvest salmon during the 2020 fishing season due to COVID-19. The salmon distribution, being referred to as “Operation Fish Drop,” will provide 25-pound cases of frozen sockeye salmon fillets to eligible families who signed up in advance.
“The coronavirus pandemic created barriers that prevented Alaska Native communities from accessing their subsistence foods, including salmon. As aid was flooding in from CARES Act programs, it was clear that the act’s scope was huge but it was not reaching many of our Alaska Native communities in ways that we needed help. Operation Fish Drop was created as a direct response to Alaska Native needs. It is critical to connect our Native people with the foods that sustain our health and heritage,” said Sam Schimmel, founder and organizer of Operation Fish Drop.
“In just a few hours after posting Operation Fish Drop online, descendants from all 13 Alaska Native Regional Corporations who represent the 231 federally recognized Native Tribes and Villages of Alaska had signed up to receive 12,000 pounds of frozen sockeye filets. There was so much demand that we had to create a waiting list that now has over 500 Alaska Native families and individuals on it. It is clear that we need more programs like this that address our food security needs — we need regional solutions to our regional problems. We are working with partners and searching for additional funders to help us bring more Alaska salmon to more Alaska Native families,” said Schimmel.
Operation Fish Drop’s partners include Cook Inlet Tribal Council and the Alaska Native Heritage Center, which provided outreach and distribution support. The donated salmon was made possible by a fishermen-led Seafood Donation Program created in 2020 in response to COVID-19’s impacts on Alaska families. The program, housed at the Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust, is funded in part by seafood sales from Alaskans Own, a Sitka-based Community Supported Fishery that sells monthly seafood shares and seafood boxes directly to consumers in Alaska and the Lower 48. The program is also funded through the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association and grants from Catch Together, Multiplier, Alaska Community Foundation, Sitka Legacy Fund, and First Bank. To date, the program has distributed more than 600,000 meals of Alaska seafood to families in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest.
“Alaska’s fishermen are in the business of feeding people; that’s what makes them excited to go out on the water season after season. While the coronavirus has brought a lot of challenges to our fishermen and industry, it’s also created a real opportunity for us to work with others and find new ways to make Alaska seafood more accessible to more Alaskans. We’re really honored and grateful that we can help local leaders like Sam bring wild salmon to the people who depend on it most, and we hope that we can bring more Operation Fish Drops to more communities around the state,” said Natalie Sattler, Alaskans Own Coordinator.