By O’Hara Shipe
In a market saturated with seafood products, there is a small social enterprise striving to do business differently.
“There is a growing movement to get back to our roots where seafood is concerned—to keep it local, or at least keep the origin story intact so that as we sit down to dinner, we can tell our kids the name of the fisherman who harvested tonight’s catch and know that the sustenance with which we’re nourishing our bodies is also what sustains that fishing family,” says Catch 49 Director Katy Rexford.
The brainchild of the Alaska Marine Conservation Council (AMCC), Catch 49 has been working with small-scale fishermen along Alaska’s coastline to provide sustainably-sourced seafood options to the community since 2011. Operating under one of AMCC’s guiding principles, “fisheries management policies should ensure adequate, intergenerational access to fishing opportunities for local residents and communities,” Catch 49 prides itself on providing business opportunities to coastal residents.
According to a 2017 McDowell Group study, Alaska produces more wild seafood than all other U.S. states combined. Alaska’s seafood export business is strong, with nearly 90-percent of all Alaskan seafood sold Outside. In theory, this should mean more capital and job opportunities infused into coastal communities where the seafood harvested. But with the way the seafood supply chain is structured, that hasn’t been the case.
The seasonality of many Alaskan fisheries means that there is a heavy reliance on non-resident workers to fully staff production jobs. In 2016, approximately 70-percent of the workforce was comprised of non-residents. Similarly, nearly 50-percent of employed commercial fishermen were non-residents.
With the bulk of Alaska fishing permit holders approaching retirement age and rural fishing communities struggling to retain access to local fisheries, the “graying of the fleet” has become a pressing concern for the state of Alaska and its coastal communities.
This is where the importance of Catch 49 comes into play.
“Catch 49 invests all proceeds in maintaining healthy fisheries and securing access for entry-level and small boat fishermen,” explains Rexford.
Continually looking for new partnerships, Catch 49 has expanded its sales to include Copper River Sockeye, Bristol Bay Sockeye, Southeast Alaska Coonstripe Shrimp, Southeast Spot Prawns, Southeast Dungeness Crab, and Kodiak Jig Rockfish—to name a few.
With an increasing demand for new products, Catch 49 has been able to open their first storefront to service Anchorage customers year-round. Although Catch 49 is not yet equipped to take in-person orders, procuring their seafood is as easy as a few mouse clicks.
New customers might feel a little bit of sticker shock when they see the pricing, but Rexford is confident that the quality and uniqueness of the product speaks for itself.
“Catch 49 fishermen know that their hard-won catch is feeding a person who understands what it takes to bring that beautiful fish to his or her table, and who appreciates their harvester and the care given to maintaining a healthy resource. What’s more, Catch 49 pays fishermen a little extra for their catch that reflects not only their hard work but also their willingness to go the extra mile from deck to dock in ensuring that the highest care and handling standards are upheld,’ says Rexford.
Want to learn more about the program or to purchase seafood? Visit Catch49.org or stop by their retail location (636 E 15th Avenue) on Thursday’s between 12-6pm.