Schoolhouse Fish Co. is brought to you by Eric Grundberg, Malena Marvin, Keeja the dog, and the F/V Happy Time. Eric and Malena are part of a wave of Alaskan entrepreneurs crafting businesses based on values. By keeping more fish revenues in coastal communities, prioritizing craftsmanship over volume, and supporting local nonprofits, Schoolhouse Fish Co. is doing their best to pay it forward to future generations of fish and fishing families. We’re excited to have Schoolhouse Fish Co. kick-off our new Q&A series highlighting AMCC members!
How long have you been commercial fishing? What drew you to this work?
Eric: I began fishing commercially over a decade ago in my early 20s. I had come to Petersburg to work seasonally for my uncle’s sea kayaking business and decided to stay and try a different line of work. Commercial fishing is the biggest industry in Petersburg and it was a good fit for me. I enjoyed working hard outdoors and knew that if I stuck with it I could eventually run my own boat and fishing business. Six years ago I ran a 42 ft. power troller, the F/V Happytime, and became a salmon troller. Malena joined me 3 years ago and now we operate Schoolhouse Fish Co. together.
The Happytime is outfitted for diving and I also take it out in the late fall with a sea cucumber diving crew. I still go longlining for halibut and work the herring roe-on-kelp fishery with friends on other boats.
What would most seafood consumers be surprised to learn about your life as a small-boat commercial fisherman?
Eric and Malena: I think many people think of fishing as just that, fishing. But fishing is just the tip of the iceberg for our business. Eric works incredibly hard to keep all the working parts of our boat in good repair and is constantly fixing and improving it. Malena works on developing the Schoolhouse Fish Co. brand, as well as on learning the best ways to connect our salmon with people all over Alaska and the lower 48. By necessity, small boat fishermen must also be active advocates and we put a lot of time into that. Eric stays on top of all the fisheries politics that impact us as trollers and longliners, and Malena is passionate about protecting clean water.
Why did you start direct marketing your catch?
Malena: Like many fishermen, Eric was busy enough for many years just running and maintaining the boat on his own. After we got together we had more capacity to sell our own fish and wanted to set up a family business that would reflect our values. My experience with marketing combined with Eric’s experience with fishing meant we had a strong skill set for successfully selling our own quality seafood. We saw that by marketing our own fish we could get a more stable price since we would sell direct to customers rather than send our fish into a complex global market. At the same time, we are finding that more and more people actually want to know their fishermen and see first hand that they are supporting sustainable business.
What do you especially love about your fishing livelihood?
Malena: Eric and I both love the tides and living a “tidal life.” We enjoy that our fishing business and way of life are set to a natural rhythm that we have no choice but to follow. We also love our way of life in Petersburg, and getting to share so much wild food and wild places with a special island community.
What’s happening in the small-boat commercial fishing industry that is exciting or encouraging?
We love seeing new direct-market businesses pop up and more young friends getting fishing boats. It’s also wonderful that more and more seafood lovers are choosing to support people like us. It feels great to see people learning about what makes us different and appreciate the care we put into being conscientious and environmentally-minded fisher people.
What do you see as the biggest threat to your way of life as a small-boat commercial fisherman?
Unlabeled farmed and GMO salmon pose a threat to businesses like ours that depend on marketing actual wild and healthy salmon. In order to support small-boat fishermen like us, we’d also like to see the state of Alaska get serious about protecting the clean water and habitat that are the foundation of our fisheries. The state has invested a lot in marketing “wild Alaskan” seafood, but our politicians also have to be firm with environmental policies that will keep our seafood products pure and clean for future generations.
What advice would you share with others looking to start a small business?
Malena: Obviously being successful with a small business is a lot of work, but it’s also an opportunity to be creative. Small businesses are all about implementing dreams and I think the more you can identify and feel stoked about living your biggest dreams, the more successful you will be!
What part of AMCC’s work resonates most with you?
Malena and Eric: We love that there is more and more overlap between advocacy work and entrepreneurship, and that AMCC is embracing that sweet spot between traditional nonprofit work and that of small business. You are leading the way here in AK in showing that “growing the economy” and “saving the planet” are really the same thing if we do it right!
Where in Alaska would you like to visit or spend more time?
Malena and Eric: The fishing season doesn’t leave a ton of time for summer recreation, but we’d love to get out and float more of Alaska’s amazing rivers. We are lucky to live right next to the Stikine, but would like to travel to the northern part of the state and experience more wild Alaska!
Thank you to those who recently took action! Over 200 people took the time to sign the letter in support of increased funding for ocean acidification research. Through your support, we hope congress will approve the recommended Ocean Acidification budget.
This research is needed to understand the challenges ocean acidification poses to the oceans and the coastal communities that depend upon it. Not only are Alaskan waters particularly susceptible to changes in ocean chemistry, but fishermen, shellfish farmers, and coastal communities across the state depend on productive coastal areas for their jobs, cultural traditions, food security and recreation.
Federal research dollars can help avert the impacts of ocean acidification by deepening our scientific understanding of the problem, enabling local businesses to remain productive through awareness and adaptation, and active planning on next steps, both locally and nationally.
For more on ocean acidification and AMCC’s work on this issue, please visit AMCC’s Ocean Acidification in Alaska weppage and be sure to stay updated on current ocean acidification research on our Facebook Page.
The AMCC Team
By: Dorothy Childers, Associate Director
“Consistent with principles of public stewardship entrusted to this office, with due consideration of the importance of Bristol Bay and the North Aleutian Basin Planning Area to subsistence use by Alaska Natives, wildlife, wildlife habitat, and sustainable commercial and recreational fisheries, and to ensure that the unique resources of Bristol Bay remain available for future generations….”
With those words one year ago today President Obama announced a landmark decision to remove the North Aleutian Basin from the federal Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program, protecting Bristol Bay and the southeast Bering Sea, the region’s valuable fishing grounds, and world’s largest wild salmon run into the future. This would not have been possible without the ongoing support of members and partners like you who remained dedicated to the cause for over 12 years.
Please join in celebrating the collective victory to protect Bristol Bay by eating some delicious wild salmon and thanking the White House!
Since the 1970s, people dependent on Bristol Bay were frustrated by the uncertainty created by federal administrations’ ever-changing positions on whether or not to lease the fish-rich region of Bristol Bay for offshore oil and gas drilling. Bristol Bay and the southeast Bering Sea represent over 40% of U.S. domestic seafood production valued at more than $2 billion annually – including salmon, king crab, herring, and groundfish. It is a juvenile halibut nursery for the whole North Pacific and therefore important to fishing families statewide.
The call for action came from the seafood companies, working fishermen in Bristol Bay, tribal leaders conservation groups, and thousands of Alaskans who continually carried the torch for protecting Bristol Bay from drilling.
“Over 50 tribal organizations across western Alaska and the Interior, commercial fishermen, seafood companies, and conservation groups who wanted to support the people and the fisheries worked together to promote permanent protection for Bristol Bay,”said Tom Tilden, Chief of the Curyung Tribe. “Working together respectfully and with a single mind – this is how big things get done.”
Want to learn more about the fight to protect Bristol Bay from offshore drilling? A Legacy Story, produced by AMCC and Nunamta Aulestai, chronicles the long struggle over decisions about opening Bristol Bay and the southeast Bering Sea to offshore oil and gas drilling. Over many decades, people dependent on the region’s rich marine resources have been undaunted in an effort to protect these waters. The story is told from the perspective of those on the front lines – leaders in the region and the seafood industry, past governors and former Interior Department secretaries. By documenting this story, future generations will remember the history, value the enduring effort made to permanently set Bristol Bay and the southeast Bering Sea aside from oil and gas leasing, and be supported in safeguarding the region into the future.
Thank you Mr. President for traveling to Dillingham in September, and for your recognition of the cultural, economic and ecological value of Bristol Bay!
Thank you all for your support. Together our voices reached
the White House and resulted in a tremendous victory
for our fisheries and coastal communities!
Whether you have loved ones from the lower 48 or loved ones here in Alaska, AMCC has a few ideas for unique, thoughtful gifts that give a taste of Alaska’s oceans. What is better than a gift that makes your loved one smile while at the same time supporting local businesses that are committed to marine conservation and the livelihoods of Alaskan fishermen? We have several recommendations below and also an entire list of our business members you may want to consider purchasing a gift from.
1. Salmon Sisters Gift Boxes
For your brother in the secret Santa exchange, your girlfriend who gets excited over locally-made goods, or the one who loves spending time in the kitchen, The Salmon Sisters have Alaskan gift boxes ready to be sent wherever you need them. The uniqueness of the products along with the strong connection to Alaskan fisheries cannot be beat. Simply order online and support this amazing duo of fisherwomen sisters.
2. Drifter’s Fish Frozen Sockeye Salmon
Who doesn’t love wild Alaskan salmon? This sockeye salmon from Drifter’s Fish is not only tasty, it is sustainably harvested by husband and wife team, Michael and Nelly Hand, from The Copper River. Their online ordering system allows you to have the frozen sockeye shipped directly to your family or friends door and ensures delivery by December 18th. Last day to order is December 15th! They also have smoked salmon if you prefer that option.
3. Alyeska’s Seven Glaciers Gift Certificate
Sometimes experiences are appreciated more than things, especially when that experience is sitting on top of Alyeska while watching the sunset over Turnagain Arm and feasting on perfectly prepared Kodiak Jig Seafoods Rockfish. Treat your loved ones to an experience of fine dining and wild, sustainably caught seafood. Our Kodiak Jig Seafoods fishermen will thank you!
4. Dive Alaska Scuba Certification Classes
For the adventurer on your list is, why not provide them with the incredible opportunity of scuba diving certification? These classes definitely go beyond the normal gift idea and also provide an experience that focuses on safely navigating and also protecting the underwater ecosystem. We can’t think of a better way to become connected to Alaska’s oceans than to dive right in!
Commercial, sport and subsistence fishermen and fishing communities find common ground in call for bycatch reduction in the Bering Sea
For more information, please contact:
Hannah Heimbuch, Fisherman & Community Fisheries Organizer at the Alaska Marine Conservation Council, (907) 299-4018
Jeff Kauffman, CEO St. Paul Fishing Company, (907) 952-2476
Simeon Swetzof, Mayor, City of St. Paul, (907) 546-4472
Linda Behnken, Executive Director Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, (907) 747-0695
Across the state, letters and resolutions supporting the reduction of halibut bycatch caps in the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands (BSAI) fisheries are surfacing — calling attention to a widespread and diverse movement for change. As directed halibut fisheries in the Bering Sea have reached crisis-level lows, bycatch limits on that same species remains at its decades-long level of 7.3 million pounds. Despite some voluntary bycatch reductions by the fleet, BSAI fisheries killed and discarded seven times more halibut (animals, not pounds) in 2014 than the directed fishery landed in that same region.
For fisherman Jeff Kauffman — an Alaska Native from St. Paul Island and IFQ holder in five IPHC regulatory areas — this represents a trend of inequity that he’s seen grow in his 30 years of halibut fishing. After the International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) determines the annual harvest, they take the bycatch numbers off the top. The remainder goes to directed halibut fisheries. The North Pacific Fisheries Management Council (NPFMC) system determines bycatch limits.
“Halibut bycatch comes off the top,” Kauffman said. “As directed halibut users, we are always last. It’s been very inequitable — the way the situation has been handled. There has been a defacto reallocation from the directed fisheries to the bycatch fisheries.” That reallocation trend has occurred in response to a major conservation concern for the halibut resource. In the last 10 years, halibut quota in the Bering Sea has been reduced by 63 percent in an effort to conserve a dwindling stock.
“Conservation of the halibut stock is riding solely on the backs of the halibut fishermen,” Kauffman said. “The bycatch allocations have remained relatively the same for decades. We feel that it’s only fair that all users of the halibut resource share equally in the conservation of the resource.”
In June, the NPFMC will take final action on a measure that proposes up to a 50 percent reduction in the cap on halibut bycatch in BSAI fisheries. Across the state, diverse voices have emerged in support of this measure — seen as vital not only for restoring some sort of economic equity to the BSAI fisheries system, but for essential conservation steps. 70 to 90 percent of under-26-inch halibut are slated to migrate out of the BSAI upon maturity. The average size of the one million halibut caught as bycatch in the BSAI in 2014 was 4.76 pounds, less than half the weight of a typical 26-inch halibut. This high rate of juvenile halibut harvest in the bycatch fisheries is troubling to halibut fishing communities coast-wide, and the potential stock impact across the North Pacific has many calling for a change in the status quo.
“As a younger fisherman beginning to invest my future in Alaska’s fisheries, I don’t have any choice but to advocate for a better legacy of management,” said Hannah Heimbuch, a commercial fisherman from Homer and Community Fishery Organizer for the Alaska Marine Conservation Council. “I want to keep fishing halibut. I want to see fish stocks thriving across the North Pacific coast. I want Alaska to be home to healthy coastal communities that have access to that vital resource. That won’t happen if we continue to prioritize a massive take of bycatch over the directed fisheries. I don’t want to see any fisherman put out of business, but that is what will happen in coastal Alaska if we refuse to include the groundfish sector in the regulatory conservation of the halibut resource.”
On April 15, a group of Alaska legislators sent a letter to the NPFMC, urging them to make a 50 percent reduction in BSAI halibut bycatch to ensure the continued viability of Alaska’s directed halibut fisheries. That letter was signed by Senators Lyman Hoffman, Donny Olson, Dennis Egan and Peter Micciche; as well as Representatives Bryce Edgmon, Bob Herron, Neal Foster, Cathy Munoz, Paul Seaton, Johnathan Kreiss-Tomkins, Dan Ortiz and Jim Colver.
A letter sent this week to the Alaska Congressional Delegation requesting their support in reducing halibut bycatch included the following signees:
Alaska Longline Fisheries Association
Alaska Marine Conservation Council
Alaska Trollers Association
Aleut Community of Saint Paul Tribal Government
Aleutians East Borough
Aleutian Pribilof Island Community Development Corporation
Central Bering Sea Fisherman’s Association
City of Saint Paul Island, Alaska
Coal Point Seafood Company
Fishing Vessel Owners’ Association
Halibut Association of North America
Homer Charter Association
North Pacific Fisheries Association
Pioneer Alaskan Fisheries, Inc.
United Fishermen’s Marketing Association
At their April 14 meeting, the Homer Area Advisory Committee for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game discussed and unanimously passed a resolution asking for a 50 percent reduction of halibut bycatch caps in the BSAI. The City of Sitka and the Kenai Peninsula Borough passed similar resolutions earlier this spring, and organizations, committees and city councils around the state are considering passage of the same in the coming month.
“The summer of 2014 represented a different kind of summer for Alaska fishermen. While commercial halibut fishermen have had their catch limits reduced for a number of years, this year the reductions hit charter fishermen in Southcentral Alaska as well. Anyone who went out on a charter boat out of Homer, Whittier, Seward, or Kodiak knows that this year, fishermen could only keep one halibut of any size, and the second halibut had to be smaller than 29 inches. Fishermen throughout the Gulf of Alaska faced restrictions on fishing for king salmon as well. While the restrictions hurt, we’re all willing to do our part to help give the struggling king salmon and halibut populations a chance to recover. However, as we all make sacrifices in commercial, sport, personal use and subsistence fisheries to support these iconic Alaskan fish species, our attention turns to another group of harvesters that has not been restricted nearly to the same degree — the Gulf trawl fisheries…”
For more on what AMCC is doing to reduce bycatch, click here.