More Than Just Fish

Operation Fish Drop provided 12,000 pounds of salmon to Native families

Volunteers distributed 12,000 pounds of fish to families March 25 and 26 as part of Operation Fish Drop, a grass-roots initiative to ensure Alaska Native elders and others have access to traditional foods this spring.

“This fish right here is going to help feed my family,” said one Alaska Native elder who picked up 25 pounds of vacuum packed sockeye salmon from distribution efforts at the Alaska Native Heritage Center (ANHC). “It’s been a long winter with no fish.”

Roughly 400 families or elders received salmon at the ANHC pickup site over the course of the two-day event. Fifteen partners came together to make the project possible, including Northline Seafoods, which donated the entire supply of fish from Bristol Bay, and Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust, and Alaskans Own. Fish was also distributed at Cook Inlet Housing Authority and Southcentral Foundation.

Sam Schimmel

Sam Schimmel, who contracted with CITC to make Operation Fish Drop happen, said the idea for the project was inspired by USDA shipments made to Alaska Natives when hunting or fishing seasons were poor.

“They would send us things like canned salmon — things that didn’t really have applicability to our cultural foods,” he said. “People want access to our traditional foods, like fish, moose. You see a lot of stuff come through with the CARES grant and other federal programs during the pandemic, but not many of them really listen to what we want.”

Originally, Sam collaborated with partners to raise funding for 400 pounds of fish, meant to be shared among people from his tribe in Kenai.

“There was huge interest. I would talk to our partners every week and ask for a little more,” he said. “We grew it and grew it, and finally I said, we can address the food insecurities of Native people in Anchorage.”

Volunteers pack boxes of Bristol Bay salmon donated by Northline Seafoods.

Facebook posts shared throughout the community garnered instant interest; in just five hours, more than 400 people had expressed interest in being added to the list of salmon recipients. With over 1,000 individuals requesting fish, Sam said, it’s clear that projects like Operation Fish Drop are necessary, especially in the wake of COVID-19.

Based on interest, Sam hopes to find additional funding to hold another Fish Drop this spring.

“Food insecurity among Native people was really laid bare by the pandemic,” Sam said. “Huge numbers of Native people were not able to go and practice subsistence this past summer and fall because they were sick, or they could not travel, or they were caring for loved ones. This effort puts traditional foods back on the table.”

“It’s more than just fish,” added Emily Edenshaw, ANHC President and CEO. “We’re bringing healing to our community through fish. This has been one of those soul-filling moments where people are able to live our way of life because of the partnerships we have.”

“Us Native people have been eating fish all our lives,” commented an 83-year-old elder from Hooper Bay who received fish at ANHC. “We are very thankful for this distribution.”

Sam has also served on CITC’s Youth Advisory Council. For more information about fish drop opportunities, follow CITC’s Facebook page.

More than 400 families and elders received salmon at the ANHC pickup site over the course of Operation Fish Drop.