The 2017 summer season marks the seventh anniversary of Sitka-based Alaskans Own (AO), a Community Supported Fishery (CSF) that delivers sustainably-harvested fish to seafood lovers in Alaska and beyond. Similar to Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs that send produce boxes directly from farmers to consumers, AO first pioneered the effort in 2010 to connect seafood customers to their local fisherman in Sitka. Their model inspired other CSF programs around the state, altogether expanding opportunities to bring wild, sustainably-harvested seafood from boat to table.
Today, AO subscribers continue to support efforts to use science, innovation, and collaboration with local fishing families to increase the availability of local seafood and regional food security while also supporting coastal economies. Alaskan’s Own (AO) was created in partnership by the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association (ALFA) and the Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust (ASFT). ALFA is a non-profit alliance of small-boat, commercial fishermen committed to sustainable fisheries and thriving coastal communities. ASFT’s mission is to strengthen fishing communities and marine resources through research, education and economic opportunity.
Over the years, the AO program has expanded to include members in Sitka, Juneau, Anchorage and even as far as Seattle and Fairbanks. The program is subscription-based, and customers pick up their monthly share from a central location in their community.
“In joining Alaskans Own, subscribers are choosing to be more than just consumers,” Emma Edson, coordinator of Alaskans Own, said. “They play an active part in protecting the abundance and diversity of the nation’s oceans for generations to come.”
“Eating local, eating sustainably matters, knowing where my food comes from and how it was caught is all really important to me,” said Megan Mackey, a subscriber in Juneau. “Getting fish in the summer from AO is something I look forward to every month.”
All profits from AO support ALFA’s Fishery Conservation Network (FCN), which engages fishermen and scientists in collaborative research for marine conservation and long-term viability of small boat fishing. Past projects include seafloor and bycatch hot-spot mapping, developing strategies to avoid conflicts and depredation by sperm whales, electric monitoring, fuel efficiency, and a program to support young fishermen.
“A lot of the commercial fish leaves the state, so I love that this program is about helping Alaskans buy fish that is caught by Alaskans so that more of the economic benefit stays here,”, volunteer fish coordinator in Fairbanks Angela Gastaldi said. “Also, some of our customers are people who used to do a lot of fishing but because of health reasons or job reasons, they can’t catch their own fish anymore. Through this program, they can still get local fish.”
The selection of high-quality seafood in each month’s pickup depends on what fishermen are catching, including seasonal Southeast Alaska favorites such as halibut, king salmon, coho salmon, rockfish, black cod, and ling cod. Juneau subscriber Tom Paul is a returning customer.
“We signed up last year because we wanted to support local fishermen and women, some whom we know,” he said. “The fish that arrived were obviously treated with care, perfectly filleted, packaged well, and all a delicious, high quality product.”
The high quality of AO’s flash-frozen, vacuum-packed seafood is consistently a point of praise from subscribers. Seafood sustainability leaders like ALFA are hoping for more widespread adoption of this form of seafood processing over fresh seafood.
“Studies have found that many ‘fresh,’ never-frozen fillets can take 10-16 days to arrive at a retail location, and then sit in the display case for eight days or more,” executive director of ALFA Linda Behnken said.
A 2016 report by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Economic Research Service (ERS) estimated that 23 percent of fresh seafood was wasted at supermarkets between 2011 and 2012.
AO and ALFA have contributed to research to improve flash-frozen seafood technology in order to improve market opportunities for rural seafood suppliers while reducing environmental impacts.
“Shipping fresh, never-frozen seafood by plane is the most carbon-intensive shipping method,” Behnken said. “Frozen fish, on the other hand, can be moved by container ship, rail, or even truck, which results in lower financial cost, lower carbon footprint, and a better-tasting product.”
Encouragingly, a blind taste test run by Oregon State University’s Food Innovation Center confirmed that consumers strongly preferred flash-frozen products over fresh products because it locked in the freshness and quality of a fish the day it was caught.
AO recently collaborated with an Oregon-based CSF Port Orford Sustainable Seafoods, California-based CSF Real Good Fish, the Oregon-based non-profit Ecotrust, and seafood certification company Seafood Analytics to test the Seafood CQR, a tool used to precisely measure seafood freshness. This new invention aims to help small producers better monitor their flash frozen product to maintain high quality and reduce food waste.
Among the flash-frozen products in AO’s line up this year are spot prawns supplied by the FV Ocean Cape, a small-boat operation owned by Jason Gjertsen and Wendy Alderson.
“I know the people who run the program since I’m a member of ALFA, so it’s like selling to friends and neighbors. They help with getting the product to market, but we still feel involved with the integrity of the supply chain,” Alderson said.
Her husband Jason Gjertsen is a fourth generation fisherman who targets different species including salmon, black cod, and halibut. For the past nine years, the family-owned operation added shrimping to their lineup, and they also invested in technology for flash-freezing prawns at sea.
“When we flash-freeze prawns on the boat, they are harvested live. We take the heads off, and then they go to 40 below soon after they are caught. Once frozen, they’re dipped in a seawater glaze with no chemicals, and individually frozen,” Alderson said.
She added that her prawns are also sushi grade and appropriate for eating raw since the -40 degree temperature kills harmful bacteria and parasites.
Alderson and other AO fisher families are proud to be part of a network that promotes conservation of a resource that is the basis of their livelihoods.
“ALFA members are willing to put the resource first, no matter what the cost to themselves, because it pays off in the future to have a healthy resource,” Alderson said.
Subscriptions for the 2017 season are still open. CSF subscribers can choose to be part of a four-month program to receive a 5 or 10 pound portion each month from May through August or a six-month program from May through October. Bulk ordering seafood is also an option. “We set a goal of having 100 new members sign up by June 30, 2017 to grow our support for Alaskan fishing families,” Behnken said.
AO’s referral program gives a free fillet of fish to current subscribers for each new referral, and new subscribers receive a discount.
Since the Alaskans Own program began over seven years ago, the program has grown considerably, yet the spirit of the program remains the same, Behnken said.
“Whether buying bulk or getting monthly deliveries of wild seafood, AO customers invest in sustainable harvest, coastal fishermen and seafood-related jobs that form the economic backbone for Southeast Alaska communities,” she said.
To sign up for a subscription or for information, call 907-747-3400 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. More details can be found at www.alaskansown.com.