Prohibited species bycatch feeds hungry families

SeaShare donors range from harvesters and processors to freight and logistics companies

No one asks for bycatch, but when it happens those unwanted fish donated to SeaShare may become a blessing in the form of seafood portions feeding hungry families.

“Our partners recognize the value that PSC (prohibited species catch) can have for hungry families and agree to donate their line time, labor and packaging so these fish aren’t wasted,” Jim Harmon, executive director of SeaShare, told the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) during its April meeting in Anchorage. 

“Fish is an important protein source for food banks,” he told the council. “It has both nutritional and cultural significance for the families we serve.”

“Since 1994 the Prohibited Species Donation Program has recovered and donated 26 million servings of high protein salmon and halibut,” Harmon told the council in written testimony.

“We’ve also donated another 235 million servings of non-PSC fish across all 50 states,” he wrote.

SeaShare is the only organization authorized by the Alaska region of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to retain and distribute incidentally caught salmon and halibut from the groundfish trawl fisheries in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands (BSAI) and Gulf of Alaska (GOA) to economically disadvantaged individuals through food banks and other entities feeding people in disaster situations.


Harmon said he is currently working with NMFS’ Sustainable Fisheries Management office in Juneau to renew those permits for another three years.

Harmon was one of a number of people delivering reports to NPFMC as the council took up salmon bycatch reports from the seafood industry on its efforts to lower the amount of salmon bycatch in the pollock trawl fishery. While a portion of the PSC salmon go to food banks and other entities to feed the hungry, the demise of salmon fish runs on the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers have left hundreds of Alaska families without the fish that has been part of their cultural heritage. 

The federal council has been slowly gathering data on a variety of issues impacting salmon runs on these rivers including bycatch, the unintended capture of these salmon in directed groundfish fisheries.

In its latest effort in April, the council directed council staff to produce an analysis of related information for discussion at the council’s October meeting in Anchorage.

SeaShare’s success is based on a huge number of volunteers, ranging from harvesters and processors donating fish and processing, to others providing transport of the fish and other needed services to get those seafood portions to the hungry. In 2022 alone donated volume of PSC fish added up to 245,695 pounds, and SeaShare still has the capacity to process and distribute larger volumes, Harmon said.

All costs associated with retaining and donating frozen headed and gutted fish are donated by participating fishermen and processors in Alaska. SeaShare then works with downstream partners to store and convert those donations into finished packages that food banks can distribute.

The final cost is about 62 cents per finished pound for PSC from the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands. SeaShare receives no state or federal funds to support the program. That aid instead comes from financial help from individuals, corporations, foundations, and food banks to support all costs associated with the program, he said.

 All seafood portions donated in Alaska come at no cost to receiving agencies.  SeaShare does reply on food banks in the Lower 48, however, to support a portion of the costs incurred to turn donated fish into finished, packaged servings, Harmon said.

Last year in Alaska SeaShare distributed 86,090 pounds of canned salmon in Anchorage and Juneau, 84,611 pounds of king and chum salmon from Bristol Bay and Kodiak (not PSC) to Yukon River villages, 9,968 pounds of halibut, salmon and ling cod (not PSC) to Kuskokwim villages, 9,027 pounds of breaded pollock portions to Juneau, 2,078 pounds of king salmon (not PSC) to Dillingham, and 563 pounds of crab and ling cod to Kodiak.