ANCHORAGE - Wild Alaska pink salmon, purchased through federal food aid programs, now feeds hungry people in Cambodia and Guatemala, and pilot programs are in the works to provide salmon to those contracted with AIDS.
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Kodiak fisherman Bruce Schactler, the food aid coordinator for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, said Oct. 20 that the U.S. Department of Agriculture purchased 300 tons of pink salmon in 1-pound tall cans earlier this fall, and there should be another 300-ton purchase of canned pinks soon.
As food prices rise in the United States, the world's dominant donor for food aid, the USDA has purchased less food than in past years, USDA data shows. Schactler said so far this has not affected the move of wild Alaska pinks into the federal program.
The effort by ASMI to promote use of pink canned salmon in the federal food aid program has brought nutritious proteins to recipients, while also helping the product's processors, who bid on USDA purchase proposals.
"It helps us to manage and stabilize inventories, and gives us a good market for second-grade product, product that may not be number one premium grade," said Tom Sunderland, marketing director for Ocean Beauty Seafoods. "We can't predict the quality of the fish we are going to get to can," Sunderland said.
While the coloring of the fish does not affect its nutritional value, it may affect consumer eye appeal, and, therefore, the retail price.
"A lot of products are good uses of nonpremium raw material," Sunderland said. "If something doesn't fillet right, or have the right color, it doesn't affect the quality; (but) it doesn't have the same application. It's very important for us to have markets for (all) product."
Among the hundreds of nonprofit groups and organizations that request food through the USDA program are the Salesian Mission and Food for the Poor. Both previously won approval for their proposals to include cans of wild Alaska pink salmon in their food requests.