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Community supported fisheries support conservation, one bite at a time

Posted: Sunday, January 23, 2011

This year, seafood lovers in Juneau have the opportunity to participate in an innovative program that supports sustainable fisheries and local ocean conservation efforts in Southeast Alaska. Alaskans Own, a Sitka-based community supported fishery, will expand its subscription-based program to Juneau in late spring, according to Linda Behnken, executive director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association (ALFA).

Alaskans Own operates Alaska’s first community supported fishery (CSF), connecting diverse participants in the seafood supply chain to work together to ensure a healthy, economically and environmentally sustainable source of local foods to the community.

The CSF is based on the community supported agriculture (CSA) model, popularly recognized as a subscription service that delivers a box of fresh produce directly from the farm to the customer. Many people in Juneau already receive CSA boxes from Full Circle Farm and Glacier Valley Farm. Instead of produce, CSF members enjoy locally caught seafood. In both CSFs and CSAs, customers pay in advance for their share of the harvest. This provides the producer a dedicated market with a fixed number of customers.

Last year, Alaskans Own started small with a handful of boats from ALFA’s Fishery Conservation Network supplying a variety of seasonal fish to subscription members in Sitka.

“The CSF sold fish at the Sitka Farmer’s Market and provided fish to its 18 subscription members,” Behnken said.

The successful first season and increased interest encouraged the CSF to offer its subscription service to Juneau during the upcoming fishing season.

Elizabeth Dubovsky, president of the Slow Food Southeast Alaska chapter in Juneau, sees the CSF’s expansion into Juneau as an indication in changing consumer tastes and values.

“People want to be reconnected with where their food comes from,” Dubovsky said. “They want to feel good about where they’re putting their money.”

The Fishery Conservation Network is a group of like-minded fishermen dedicated to sustainable fishing practices. Boats in this network use technology to limit by-catch and reduce their carbon footprint by testing new innovations in fuel efficiency and monitoring. Some boats even assist with marine mammal research. Alaskans Own is the marketing venture that generates the funds to sustain the network’s conservation efforts by promoting the product of fishermen who are going above and beyond to protect the long-term viability of the resource. Funding to support this initiative came from the Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust, a partnership with the north Pacific Fisheries Trust, Ecotrust, the Oak Foundation and the Surdna Foundation.

“We’ll have a good supply of fish this year, so there won’t be a limit on the number of subscribers,” Behnken said. “Organizations can also subscribe to the program.”

A full subscription provides 40 pounds and a half subscription supplies 20 pounds for the season. The fish is fresh-frozen and vacuum packed, so the customer receives a high quality product that can go straight into the freezer until it is ready to be cooked. Since all fishermen who contribute to Alaskans Own belong to a network committed to conservation principles and standards, the consumer has the opportunity to learn about the people who caught their fish and about how their food is being handled.

“Last year, the fish was so popular that some of our subscribers asked for more than what was in their box,” Behnken said. “We were able to do this to some extent, and we also had fish to send to our local farmer’s market.”

In addition to fish, subscribers receive recipes and information on the network’s marine conservation efforts.

For this subscription season, fish will be coming from Sitka fishermen and Sitka-based processors who worked with the CSF last year. Behnken welcomes partnerships with Juneau processors and is actively seeking greater participation from local fishermen in the network. She is happy to share her experience with community members who are interested in further “localizing” Alaskan Own’s Juneau operations or who are interested in starting a separate CSF.

“The whole network gets stronger with more participation,” she said. “When more fishermen are out practicing sustainable fishing methods, we can have a bigger impact on conservation.”

To sign up for a subscription or for information, call 209-1187 or e-mail alaskansown@gmail.com. More details can be found at www.alaskansown.com.

• Jennifer Nu is a freelance writer in Juneau, Alaska. She can be contacted at jennu.jnu@gmail.com.

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