Unalaska is most widely known for being a fishing port — the largest in the nation. Hundreds of millions of pounds of seafood are delivered to Unalaska’s processing plants every year. And generally, the local community also brings in large harvests through subsistence fishing.
But this year was tough. Qawalangin Tribe President Harriet Berikoff said rough boating weather and low salmon numbers at Wislow, the community’s largest subsistence salmon run, meant most families couldn’t fill their freezers.
“It’s been a tough year for a lot of the people that live here,” Berikoff said. “Most of us never even got to wet our nets because the weather was so bad. Some people got a few. But even [at Wislow], the count was very low compared to years ago.”
Subsistence foods are an essential part of life for the Unangax̂ community, who have been harvesting from land and sea for thousands of years. And Berikoff said the elders are especially hard hit when those resources run low.
The Qawalangin Tribe of Unalaska donated $22,000 of food to tribal members on Sept. 7, and the donations came in the form of a food box.
But these aren’t your typical food boxes of non-perishables, these are filled with 22 pounds of frozen sockeye salmon — filleted, vacuum packed, and ready to be stashed for the winter.
“Sockeye is a part of our diet and a lot of the elders and people, they don’t have nets either,” Berikoff said. “So it’s important that they get it and have a freezer. They could put it in there for the winter and they’ll have fish all winter long.”
The 100 boxes came from Peter Pan Seafoods in Port Moller. Berikoff said the tribe used federal funds to help purchase them and that they are planning to buy the boxes again next year.
In addition to donating to tribal members, fish boxes were handed out to every resident at the Unalaska Senior Center.