How Seafood Producers Cooperative Helps Ensure Food Security for Americans

One of the biggest challenges facing human beings in this day and age is how to bring food to our tables in a sustainable way. Food production has a massive impact both on the environment and on economics. As a co-op, owned and operated by fishermen based in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest, Alaska Gold Seafood is part of a solution for improving Americans’ food security. Our fishermen-owners catch wild salmon, halibut, sablefish and albacore tuna in a sustainable way. As owners of our company, they take pride in doing things the right way. Our Alaska Gold Seafood is a pure ingredient, sustainably harvested by fishermen with a direct link to the coastal communities in which they live.

The average consumer has a major disconnect with where food comes from and how it is produced. This disconnect has largely come as a result of the dominance of processed products commonly eaten at home and in fast food restaurants. Fortunately, that disconnect is being bridged by food producers who are taking a more active role in getting products direct to consumers. This is where Alaska Gold Seafood fits in. We are connecting people at home with the fish that the fishermen-owners of Seafood Producers Cooperative produce. Each order goes out with a brochure that includes cooking tips, recipes and stories of the lives of our fishermen. Each one of our fishermen-owners is a novel within themselves and brings a lifetime of experiences and pride in bringing the best quality fish to market.

Knowledge brings greater responsibility. We are hoping to contribute to a growing awareness among consumers of where their fish comes from. It’s a small gesture, but we are reconnecting people with the fishermen that bring food to their plates.

Good food sustainability is also about farmers and fishermen working with the land and the sea to create better food systems than we have now. Our fishermen-owners work in direct contact with the sea. Many of them, like Linda Behnken and Dick Curran, spend the off-season advocating to protect the resource.

Another part of ensuring food security is helping home consumers rediscover basic cooking techniques in order to avoid the trap of eating too much processed food, which will enable them to more easily cook a variety of ingredients easily. We offer seafood cooking tips in the hopes of illustrating just how easy it is to cook with our fish! It must be said: Making a nutritious, fine restaurant-quality meal in 10-15 minutes is not out of the question. Cooking our Alaska Gold Seafood, cut conveniently into serving size portions, is actually easier than other proteins. With our line-caught seafood, use minimal seasonings and simple recipes.

In everything we do we work to protect a resource and a livelihood that works in direct contact with the earth. Our fishermen own our cooperative, which means that they have deep pride in what they produce and look out for the resource upon which their livelihoods depend. They also have a positive impact for the state of Alaska and the United Sates as a whole, as so many workers are employed by the seafood industry both directly (i.e., fishers, grocers, etc.) and indirectly (i.e., transportation and storage).

The Alaska seafood industry employs a lot of people that have an enormous impact on the region. Between fishermen, processors and administrators, the Alaska seafood industry employs somewhere around 60,000 workers. These are American jobs. As a whole, the Alaska seafood industry accounts for 111,800 jobs in the United States, including production, distribution and retail chain. Workers in these jobs earned an estimated $5.8 billion in total annual labor income.

Beyond that, Alaska seafood is a renewable resource that is managed so that Alaskans and Americans can benefit in perpetuity. Alaska’s fisheries are known worldwide as a model for sustainable management, as each fishery is managed on a science-first basis, with reliance on objective data and a de-emphasis on politics. A key aspect of the model is the separation of the entities that set policy and those that enforce and study harvest limits.

People from every U.S. state participate in Alaska’s commercial fisheries. Our co-op includes owners from states as diverse as Texas, Florida, Maine, California, Washington and Maine. Even Kiwis from New Zealand like Stephen Lawrie. Regardless of where they live, our Alaskan fishermen’s earnings contribute to local economies in Alaska and around the country.

The Alaska seafood industry includes $6.2 billion in direct output and $8.4 billion in multiplier effects as industry income circulates throughout the U.S. economy. Seafood accounts for 20 percent of Alaska’s basic private sector economy and, what’s unusual is that it provides opportunities for rural and urban residents alike.*

In Southeast Alaska, where most of our fishermen-owners are located, seafood is the largest private sector industry in terms of workforce size and labor income. Seafood accounted for 20% of the region’s average monthly employment.

Wild salmon contributes the most to the seafood industry and is responsible for the greatest economic impact as measured by jobs, income and total value. Alaskan wild salmon’s total contribution to the national economy includes 38,400 full-time equivalent jobs.

Another curious aspect of the seafood industry is that Alaska seafood lowers the cost of living in Alaska by providing economies of scale and lowering the cost of utilities, shipping and fuel. The majority of Alaska’s shipping freight is a one-way, northbound haul. Shipping out seafood on southbound freight provides “backhaul” revenue for shippers, allowing more competitive rates on northbound freight because it costs a lot to send empty containers southbound. Seafood backhaul lowers northbound freight rates by as much as 10 percent, so this helps Alaskan communities, which suffer from high costs of living because of the expense in shipping items from the lower 48 up north.

All of this matters because it has been reported that up to 90% of the seafood that Americans eat is imported. Typically, this imported seafood is cheaper because of compromises in quality, labor and/or environmental practices of seafood industry players from abroad. In general, these foreign fisheries aren’t managed for  future sustainability and/or for proper employment practices. They hurt the communities they operate in, instead of helping them. By buying direct from the fishermen through Alaska Gold Seafood or from other fishermen-owned operations, consumers can become more engaged with where seafood comes from and support the environment and the American workers who directly benefit from the purchase.

*From “Economic Value of Alaska’s Seafood Industry,” Economic Report by the McDowell Group.