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Grill to Save Bristol Bay

Savor Bristol Bay cedar grilling planks are now available for purchase from Fire & Flavor Grilling Co. All proceeds from cedar plank sales directly benefit the Save Bristol Bay campaign. Buy your cedar plank today.

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Alaska wild salmon finds advocate in Oregon's New Season's market

MARGARET BAUMAN
Alaska Journal of Commerce
July 22, 2007

A Portland, Ore., grocer’s commitment to wild Alaska seafood is paying off handsomely for a Naknek fishing family now delivering nearly 2,000 pounds of Bristol Bay sockeyes a week to the market.

“It’s great so far,” said Izetta Chambers of Naknek Family Fishing, who struck a deal with the Portland grocery chain New Seasons Markets, to sell Bristol Bay sockeye at eight New Seasons stores in the Portland area.

The New Seasons’ sales have exploded the market base for the Naknek family, whose other customers are local sports lodges and the Brooks Camp.

Chambers said that next year, when the family has its own processing plant, they hope to also start adding restaurant chains as customers.

Earlier this month, Chamber was at a New Seasons Market store in Portland, standing by chefs demonstrating how to cook and serve the red salmon.

Chambers said she talked with customers about the fishery and how their purchases are supporting a family-run and -operated enterprise.

“I think that made them feel good,” she said. “The line they liked the most was, ‘My mom caught that fish.’”

Chambers’ mother, Betty Bonin, has fished in Bristol Bay for more than 30 years. These days Bonin fishes on a skiff, with daughter Rhonda Wayner, on the Naknek Point, Chambers said.

While the New Seasons Market promotion benefits the family-run business financially, Chambers, a student at the University of Arizona Law School, has an additional objective: To keep the Pebble mine project out of the Bristol Bay region.

Chambers, who plans to practice environmental and tribal rights law, is worried about the mine’s plans for development and the potential for water pollution.

“They keep talking about jobs and economic development,” she said. “We already have an economy and it’s based on fishing, and it’s been so for hundreds of years.”

Proponents of the Pebble project maintain they will abide by strict environmental regulations regarding the development of the gold, copper and molybdenum mine, which would be among the largest in North America.

It was through friends working to oppose development of the Pebble project that Naknek Family Fishing struck a deal with New Seasons.

Alan Hummel, director of merchandising and purchasing for meat and seafood at New Seasons, prefers to sell products proven to be sustainable.

“Since we opened in February 2000, we decided we weren’t going to sell farm-raised salmon,” Hummel said. “The focus of our company is to support sustainable and local agriculture. We have several programs in place to help consumers vote with their dollars.

“Our customers appreciate us promoting such issues, and new customers are happy that a grocer would be that outspoken,” he said.

“Bristol Bay is easily among the very top wild salmon fisheries in the world, but consumers in the Lower 48 rarely hear about it unless they’re traveling up here to fish it themselves,” said Tim Bristol, Alaska director for Trout Unlimited. “We hope consumers in Lower 48 markets will gain an appreciation for the treasure we have in Bristol Bay, and help us protect it from the threats it’s currently facing.”

Margaret Bauman can be reached at margie.bauman@alaskajournal.com.