Meet ALFA and ASFT, and get ready for the Sitka Seafood Festival!

Dear friends of ALFA and ASFT,

With Alaska's salmon season in full swing, we’ve got a lot going on, and we want to tell you about it.

ALFA and the Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust (ASFT) are officially partnering this year to bring back the Sitka Seafood Festival! From August 10th to 19th, we’ll be hosting a celebration of the fishing culture and heritage that our local economies (and palates and pantries) depend on, and the unique ecosystems of Southeast Alaska that sustain our fish and families. The festivities will continue throughout the fall, culminating in November with a Season's End banquet.

Although ALFA and ASFT are still separate organizations, our mission is shared: to safeguard ocean health, ensure that coastal communities thrive, and engage fishermen, scientists, and consumers in protecting the viability of our fisheries and small boat fleet. This summer, we want to communicate to you exactly how we do that and why we think it’s important.

Throughout the Sitka Seafood Festival, we’ll be publishing stories about our fishermen and the incredible ecosystem of Southeast Alaska, which serves as the economic life force of our communities. We’ll also take you through exactly what our fishermen do – how different methods of fishing actually work, and what happens to a fish between being hauled onto a boat and served on your plate. We’ll explain what we’re doing to help young fishermen get started in an industry that’s increasingly difficult to enter, and what we’re doing to help all our fishermen catch fish safely and efficiently while also protecting marine habitat. We hope that by the end of the year, you’ll understand why it's important to know your fisherman and support the sustainable, local fishing communities of Alaska.

To start, we thought we’d take this opportunity to explain exactly what our organizations are, how they relate to one another, and what they do.

ALFA square logo_color-01.png

The Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association (ALFA) is a 501(c)(6) alliance of small boat, commercial fishermen committed to sustainable fisheries and thriving coastal communities. ALFA members support science-based fisheries management through collaborative research, advocacy and innovation. ALFA works to safeguard ocean health and improve the economic viability of small boat fishing.

The Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust (ASFT) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit dedicated to strengthening fishing communities and marine resources through research, education and economic opportunity. ASFT builds regional and state-wide programs that are designed to be self-sustaining catalysts for conservation, communication, and sustainable coastal economies.

The ALFA and ASFT partnership focuses on: direct engagement of fishermen and other stakeholders in resource stewardship initiatives; communication and outreach to consumers and policy makers; development of innovative financing tools to ensure inter-generational transfer of fishing access to locally-based fishermen, and development of diverse, long-term revenue streams to support biodiversity and ecosystem health.  

To learn more about ALFA and ASFT’s shared history of accomplishments, check out the timeline at the bottom of this page! Meanwhile, current programs run by each organization include:

ALFA’s Fishery Conservation Network: Founded in 2009, the FCN is made up of local Southeast Alaska commercial fishermen who work with scientists and fishery managers to address conservation challenges through innovation. Member fishermen on more than 80 vessels use pioneering technology to collect data that makes fishing safer, more efficient, and more environmentally sustainable.

Some of the FCN's current projects:

  • Through bathymetric mapping technology, we’re reducing bycatch and improving fishing efficiency. Like topographic maps for the ocean, bathy maps help fishermen avoid areas where they’re likely to harm habitat or catch unwanted species.


Photo from the National Marine Fisheries Service

Photo from the National Marine Fisheries Service

  • We’re leading the implementation of electronic monitoring systems, which makes recording accurate biological data about your catch (required by fishery regulation) more affordable for small boats, more transparent, and more efficient systemically. 



  • Fishermen have donated countless at-sea days to help researchers develop whale avoidance systems and technology.




  • We’re working to reduce our fleet's environmental footprint and cut vessel fuel costs through our fuel efficiency program.



ALFA’s Young Fishermen’s Initiative:

Thirty years ago, a young person who wanted to fish commercially needed a boat, some gear, and a sense of adventure to get started in the business. As permit and quota prices have risen to staggering levels, entering the fishing industry as a young person has become exceedingly difficult. ALFA’s Young Fishermen’s Initiative aims to help young fishermen get on the water.

  • On the national level, we’re working with the Fishing Communities Coalition to advocate for a Young Fishermen’s Development Fund. Unlike for young farmers, there is currently no federal funding for training programs for young fishermen. The fund, which was just introduced through legislation in the House and Senate, would provide grants to organizations around the country aimed at training and supporting young fishermen.


  • On a local level, we’ve helped over 40 young people get hands-on experience on a fishing boat through our Deckhand Apprentice Program.





The Young Fishermen’s Initiative fits right in with work ASFT is doing through the Local Fish Fund:

ASFT’s Local Fish Fund: Between 1975 and 2014, Alaska’s rural communities experienced a net loss of over 2,300 limited entry permits. Federal quota – a share of the total allowable catch for a season that fishermen have to buy to participate – has also become concentrated into fewer hands, migrating out of rural communities and often out of state. Because few alternative employment opportunities exist in many rural Alaska communities, losing access means losing livelihood and, ultimately, losing community. As coastal communities falter, the resource loses a vital voice for conservation. ASFT’s Local Fish Fund, established in 2012, is designed to reverse that trend by helping new fishermen bear the costs and risks of entering the industry. By funding new entrants' first quota purchases through a micro-finance community-lending approach, the Local Fish Fund helps make sure that the people living in coastal communities can play an active role in harvesting fish, with strong incentives to work for conservation.

ASFT’s SeaBank: SeaBank is meant to serve as a hub of information about the incredible ecological wealth of the Southeast Alaskan ecosystem – and the economic wealth it generates. By synthesizing and quantifying the social, ecological and economic capital of Southeast Alaska, in an interdisciplinary and compelling format, SeaBank will promote biodiversity and economic prosperity for Alaska. To quote SeaBank co-founder Sam Skaggs, “The true worth of Southeast Alaska comes from its beauty and wildness, but its economic value is unparalleled. 240 million pounds of seafood are harvested annually in Southeast Alaska, worth over a billion dollars and supporting more than 10,000 jobs. Over 1 million tourists visit Southeast each year, supporting another 7,000 jobs and generating another billion dollars to the local economy. If we protect this ecosystem, if we invest in this phenomenal SeaBank, we will perpetuate that return forever.”

Finally, ALFA and ASFT’s most recent collaboration:

Alaskans Own: Founded in 2010, Alaskans Own is the first Community Supported Fishery program in the state. A CSF is like a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, but with rockfish instead of radishes and salmon replacing salad greens. Every month of the summer season, we deliver subscribers a box of local, sustainably caught seafood, harvested by local fishermen and packed by our staff. Subscribers live in Sitka, Juneau, Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Seattle, but we also ship bulk orders to individuals around the country. Profits from Alaskans Own go to funding FCN research – spearheaded by the fishermen themselves – and the Young Fishermen’s Initiative. Through AO, we bring people tasty, sustainable fish while demystifying the process it goes through to get to them, forging connections between fisherman and fish eater. In doing so, we support the local economy and simultaneously provide a strong message of conservation and community.

Banner photo by Alyssa Russell.


5 Business Tips for Young and New Fishermen

Following the success of a similar event held last fall, the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association (ALFA) hosted a “Spring Fishermen’s Expo” in early March to provide educational workshops and technical assistance to local fishermen.

During the Expo, fishermen had the opportunity to attend bathymetric mapping workshops at both beginner and advanced levels, receive technical support on their vessels, and attend a “financing your fishing business” session targeted towards young and beginning fishermen.  The two day event wrapped up presentations from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and NOAA on sablefish stocks.


During the “Financing Your Fishing Business” workshop, Nicchia Leamer, a local lender from Wells Fargo, and Susea Albea, an accountant from Spirit Bear Bookkeeping, gave presentation on qualifying for loans, bookkeeping for a fishing business, and good financial practices for fishermen.


Here are five major takeaways from the financial workshop:

1) Save your receipts.

The most important step to good bookkeeping for a business is to save all paper receipts. Why is this better than relying on your online credit card statements when tax time comes? Being able to provide information about your itemized purchases is very important in accurately reporting your taxes, and protects you in the event of an audit. Itemized receipts allow you to prove that the $500 you spent at the hardware store was actually for fishing gear, not on paint for your home.  And, as Albea put it, “It’s the difference between driving the bus and being towed behind the bus.” Good bookkeeping can also improve your relationship with lenders.

2) You will save money on your taxes if you have professional help, and it will protect you if you are audited.

Our tax system is incredibly complex, with many new regulations and changes being made each year. Very few people, other than tax professionals, have the time or energy to follow these changes. A professional will know exactly which ways you can best save money while doing taxes for your business. Simply put: if you hate bookkeeping, pay someone to help you and go out fishing instead!

3) Know where you stand.

Having a good understanding of your financial situation and the larger financial climate is important for anyone who is considering borrowing money. Know your credit, understand your earnings, be reasonable about collateral, and save your money!

4) Know the difference between good and bad debt.

Good debt pays off. It is the purchase of an investment or asset that will grow, defers other expenses, provides job opportunities, or is well below market value for some reason. Bad debt doesn’t. It is a purchase that doesn’t pay off, mis-financed debt, or high interest rate debt. Knowing when to borrow and why is very important for running a sustainable business.

5) Know what lenders are looking for--and remember, relationships count!

Lenders are looking at the five “C’s” of credit: character, capacity, collateral, capital, and conditions. This means that range of things, including your credit history, current financial situation, and other holdings are important- it is important to develop them all and have a realistic understanding of where you stand before you go in to meet your lender. And remember, having a good relationship with a lender is important both now and later on when you decide to borrow again.

Alaska: Crossing the Line to Electronic Monitoring Implementation

Alaska: Crossing the Line to Electronic Monitoring Implementation

Fishery managers and fishermen recognize that good catch accounting is essential to sustainable fisheries.  Collecting data on fish delivered to the dock presents one set of challenges; collecting data on fish captured at sea but then released or discarded for regulatory or market reasons presents an even bigger challenge.

Strengthening Small-Scale Fisheries

In early February, Duke University and the Oak Foundation hosted an international workshop focused on supporting small-scale fisheries. I participated in a panel addressing the successes and challenges of small-scale fisheries. Workshop attendees included academics, representatives from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UNFAO), conservation and rural development foundations, and others involved in supporting or managing small-scale fisheries.

What is a Small-Scale Fishery?

The diversity of operations defies concrete definition, but small-scale fisheries are generally anchored in coastal communities where fishing has a strong cultural history and supports both a livelihood and a way of life. The UNFAO estimate that small-scale fisheries account for more than 90% of the world’s commercial fishermen, processors, and others employed in the supply chain, equivalent to over 108 million people. Roughly half are employed on the oceans, making small-scale fisheries far and away the oceans’ largest employer.

Between 2010 and 2013, the UN FAO facilitated a global process that involved more than 4,000 government representatives, small-scale fishermen, fish workers, researchers, development agencies and other relevant stakeholders from more than 120 countries in 6 regional and more than 20 organization-led national meetings. Guided by these participatory meetings, in 2015 the UNFAO formulated the Voluntary Guidelines for Supporting Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries. To quote the forward to the guidelines: “These guidelines are the first internationally agreed instrument dedicated entirely to the immensely important – but until now often neglected – small-scale fisheries sector.” The challenge now is to encourage countries around the world to implement these guidelines in support of small scale fisheries.

Although the UN FAO guidelines are focused on small-scale fisheries in developing countries, Alaska’s community-based fisheries certainly fit the small-scale fisheries definition. Alaska’s coastal fisheries are firmly rooted in local communities, traditions, and values. Most coastal fishermen are self-employed and usually provide fish for their own households as well as to other households in their communities. Small-scale fisheries serve “as an economic and social engine, providing food and nutrition security, employment and other multiplier effects to local economies while underpinning the livelihoods of riparian communities.”

The workshop provided me with an opportunity to underscore the importance of small-scale fisheries in Alaska, and to share the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association’s contribution to resource management, marine conservation, and local economies. The workshop also allowed me to highlight the challenges that Alaska small-scale fishermen face from industrial fishing through bycatch and habitat impacts. As the workshop reinforced, small-scale fishermen provide a voice for sustainable fisheries and significantly contribute to maintaining local culture, rural economies, human health, and food security in remote areas. Alaska cannot afford to lose its small-scale, community-based fisheries.

Sharing My Thoughts on Small-Scale Fishermen

Anastasia Quintana is a PhD student at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment who attended the small-scale fishermen workshop. She interviewed me during the workshop for her blog, THINK, RE-THINK, RE-SOLVE, which focuses on recent world events and scientific findings through a critical social science lens. “Small-scale fisherfolk might be the most plugged-in actors in aquatic systems,” writes Quintana.

Here is an excerpt from her recent blog post:

Quitana: Why should we pay more attention to small-scale fisheries?

Behnken: Small-scale fishermen are tremendously strong voices for sustainable fisheries. They’re people who care about having healthy oceans and productive fisheries to pass on to the next generation. In rural areas, fisheries are often the only source of economic employment for people. There are fishing communities all over the world. The ones I know best are in Alaska, where most coastal communities are remote and off the road system. There is not much else that people can do to support themselves besides fishing. Nearly all Alaska’s coastal communities are off the road system—isolated by hundreds of miles of wilderness and in some cases on islands as well. When people from rural communities lose access, they lose a way of life, they lose self-esteem. We see all sorts of other social issues that flow out of that. So, there’s a social justice piece, there are social equity considerations, and there’s a really strong conservation piece to supporting small-scale fisheries.

You can read the entire interview, “Who is Linda Behnken?” on the Duke University Nicholas School of the Environment website.

Wrapping up and welcoming winter

Dear Alaskans Own Subscribers and Friends,

We hope you're getting ready to welcome the coming of winter, and enjoying your final Alaskans Own shares for the 2015 season. As the daylight leaves us, eating fish becomes more important than ever. Except for sunlight itself, there is no better source of vitamin D than wild salmon.

Our troll fishermen are now targeting winter kings, the ocean “feeders” that will come to rivers to spawn in future years.  Longliners are wrapping up their halibut and black cod season and looking forward to sharing stories and thinking about next season.  At Alaskans Own, we are doing some of the same—reflecting on the past year and planning for next season. We hope you'll help us by filling out our end of season survey that will soon be coming your way.  We need you, our subscribers, to let us know what you liked and what you would like changed.

And we would like to tell you about some changes at Alaskans Own.  This fall Alaskans Own transitioned from being a program of the Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust (ASFT—where Caroline worked), to being a program of the Alaska Longline Fishermen's Association (ALFA—where I work).

The decision is far from a wild leap: ASFT and ALFA have worked closely together since 2009 on a shared vision for a healthier Alaska, for both fish and people.  Together they have launched programs that strengthen fisheries and fishing communities, including the Fishery Conservation Network and the Local Fish Fund.

The bottom line: your subscriptions will continue to support the same conservation and stewardship efforts, but with the change the management of Alaskans Own will be more directly connected with the fishermen themselves.  ALFA is, above all, a fishermen's association, working directly to improve management in the same fisheries that provide your fish each month. Our goal is to engage more fishermen and more land-based residents in the future of our fisheries - all while connecting you with great wild seafood.

We hope you will be as excited as we are to be working more closely with ALFA and the FCN. Still, transitions are never without growing pains, so I also want to thank you for bearing with any hiccups along the way.  We deeply appreciate your support and look forward to reading your recommendations.  Please watch for the AO survey and, when you can, take time to share your thoughts.

For now, stay warm and keep in touch,


"A rose by any other name"

Happy Fish Day, AO subscribers and ALFA supporters!

Some of you may be wondering what Shakespeare is doing on a fish blog. Well, though little known to most scholars, “ye olde” Bill was actually invoking the sacred sablefish instead of the handsome Romeo.

Sablefish, black cod, butterfish—take your pick. Whatever the honorific, this fish packs a tasty punch. That’s because sables (well, we have to choose one) are prized for their high oil content and rich taste.

Actually, though colloquially referred to as “black cod” sables are actually part of the Anoplopomatide family. Alaskan sablefish typically spawn during March and April along the deep waters of the continental slope. It takes roughly five to six years for sablefish to mature, although they can live up to 90 years in the wild. They’re also a highly mobile fish, with recorded migrations of over 2,000 miles.


Sable fisheries are managed using individual fishing quote (IFQs). Each year, the fishery managers set an amount of fish that can be caught while allowing the stocks to remain stable. The quota is then broken down into shares and allotted to individual fishermen to harvest. The fishery typically runs from March 1st through November 15th, meaning you can get fresh sablefish for most of the year!

This month’s sablefish was caught by longline off the lovely F/V Tamarack. What is long lining, you ask? Longline is a fishing technique where hundreds of baited hooks branch from a single line. Benthic longlines make use of a groundline set along the sea floor with short branch lines (called “gangions”) attached every few yards ending in a baited hook. Our longline fishery does not damage benthos or benthic habitats and can select fish species by choice of hook size and design. Longlines are left to soak for a few hours, with each fish being individually landed.

Though well known by the rest of the world, sablefish is only just enjoying some well-deserved time on the American dinner plate. So tuck in, enjoy, and spread the word!