ctober is National Seafood Month. This month we’re looking to spread the word to eat more Alaska seafood — it’s good for your health. Alaskans can be proud that our state and offshore federal fisheries produce more than 60 percent of the nation’s domestic seafood harvest. Alaska’s production of more than 5.5 billion pounds is more than the whole nation consumes.
Alaska seafood has a positive brand image across the nation that helps every Alaskan.
Fisheries matter to Alaskans’ health. Regional studies bear out that most of us eat more than the national average, barely a quarter pound per week, thanks to access to sport, personal use and subsistence opportunities as well as commercial seafood in the marketplace. Access to healthy seafood products is what makes us smarter than the rest of the nation.
According to the Department of Health and Social Services, fish is nutritious, good for your heart and brain and good for your baby: “One study found that mothers who ate more fish during pregnancy had babies with higher IQs and fewer behavioral problems than mothers who ate little or no fish.” The USDA recommends people “consume a minimum of two servings of seafood per week to help decrease the risk of heart disease, and improve physical and cognitive health.”
Fisheries matter to Alaska’s economy. Fisheries activity reverberates through Alaska’s economy, not only in coastal communities, but also in Alaska’s population centers. Each active permit holder represents a family business with capital assets and years of hard work invested. The Anchorage municipal area’s 544 permit holders landed an estimated 100 million pounds of seafood in 2014, producing $50 million in ex-vessel value. More than 200 Mat-Su borough permit holders harvested almost 80 million pounds and brought home more than $25 million in ex-vessel value. More than 1,500 individuals in Anchorage and Mat-Su held commercial crew licenses, and seafood processors in Anchorage employed over 500 Alaska residents of the 957 total processor jobs in the municipality.
In coastal areas, new processing facilities, direct marketing ventures and community investments such as harbors and boat lifts have strengthened the fishing industry. The Department of Labor’s maritime workforce development initiative is paying off by attracting boat repair and marine trades work that was previously often done outside the state.
This summer, one of the major factors for the drop in prices is the high value of the dollar vs. foreign currencies. Plenty of people worldwide have a “yen” for Alaska seafood — but the same Yen that was worth $1.25 in 2013 is now only worth 83 cents. If we increase our seafood consumption locally and in other states, we will be less affected by the strength of the dollar and its effects on export markets.
#EatAlaska promotes Alaska seafood and Alaska-grown produce. The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute and Alaska Grown are promoting our seafood and farm produce with the #EatAlaska program. With 20 recipes featuring a combination of seafood and Alaska-grown produce, #EatAlaska is spreading the word at farmers’ markets and grocers and online at www.wildalaskaseafood.com/eatalaska and social media.
Also worth celebrating are this summer’s winners of the Great American Seafood Cook-off in Louisiana, Beau Schooler and Travis Hotch of the Rookery Café in Juneau. For the first time, an Alaska chef cooking Alaska seafood has won the title of “King of American Seafood.” Hats off to the team at the Rookery and to ASMI and the Governor’s office for their help with Alaska’s entry.
Seafood and its importance to Alaskans isn’t the only thing to celebrate this month — October is also National Farm to Schools month. The Division of Agriculture’s Farm and Fish to Schools program has helped communities put local produce and seafood into schools. Fishermen and farmers are getting involved in their communities to make school food exciting and delicious. Considering the nutritional and cognitive benefits, it’s a misnomer to call these programs a no-brainer.
Alaska continues its role as the nation’s seafood basket and our fisheries and farms are reaching more Alaskans with local food movements. Producing high quality food for ourselves, the United States and the world is a job that we can all be proud of.
Jerry McCune is president of United Fishermen of Alaska and Cordova District Fishermen United.