Steaking donated salmon for food banks

Two million pounds of seafood turns into 8 million meals at Feeding America food bank networks across the nation. That’s how much the Seattle-based nonprofit SeaShare has donated to Lower 48 states so far.

Good protein is the toughest item for food banks to source.  Alaskans also share in the seafood bounty.

“I think we’re at 180,000 pounds which is over 720,000 servings this year, which is more than we normally do.”

Jim Harmon is SeaShare executive director. The donated seafood helps feed Alaskans in dozens of remote communities.

“What SeaShare’s done is we purchased five freezers and put them in regional hubs, allowing us to distribute to remote communities from those hubs. So thanks  to Juneau and St. Paul and Kodiak and Bethel and Dillingham, we’re able to serve 34 other smaller communities that weren’t getting our fish five years ago.”

The program began in 1994 with bycatch donations from boats fishing the Bering Sea and has since expanded in the Gulf of Alaska to include 136 vessels, 12 shoreside processors, 34 catcher processors and three motherships.

SeaShare is the only group authorized to receive such donations. Today, bycatch makes up about 20 percent of the pack; the rest includes a wide array of products – smelt, halibut steaks, salmon burgers, lingcod, breaded pollock portions and more – all processed and donated by seafood companies.

“The nice thing is that the donations that the fishermen and processors make, it enables us to bring in other donations of freight, cold storage, packaging, processing, and those things they wouldn’t be able to donate if we didn’t have the fish.”

Harmon says the demand on food banks has soared due to the Covid pandemic.

“The clients that go to food banks have doubled this year. I believe 22% of Americans are accessing food banks and that’s unprecedented. That’s an incredible need.”

With many federal relief benefits set to expire at the end of December, demand will grow and food banks are struggling to keep up.

There’s all kinds of restrictions in place. Volunteers have really dropped off, which most food banks rely on to distribute the hand outs and segregate all the different donations that come in. It’s scary to think about. It’s going to come right after Christmas and the holidays when those extra services run out.

After the holidays, donations will be more important than ever to fill the seafood pipeline.

“We get a lot of support at the end of the year when some of the companies have end of the year giving programs where their employee dollars are matched by the company and we’re thankful for that, but the need will go on all year.  So we’ll accept everything we can knowing we’re going to be in trouble come March and April when we’ve worked through our available inventory. So we’re trying to keep the pipeline full.”

Since it began, SeaShare has delivered more than 220 million seafood servings to food banks.

Harmon says every one dollar donated to SeaShare equals eight seafood servings at U.S. food banks.