With Subsistence Foods Running Short, Bering Strait Villages Receive A Donation of Halibut

For four communities affected by this spring’s poor walrus harvest, help is on its way in the form of 10,000 pounds of halibut.

Nearly 200 boxes of the fish were delivered to Nome on July 29, according to Kawerak senior planner Donna James. She said the delivery is being sorted and will soon be distributed to Diomede, Gambell, Savoonga, and Wales.

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The U.S. Coast Guard delivered 200 boxes of halibut to Nome. The fish will soon be shipped to communities affected by the low walrus harvest. (Photo: Donna James)
The U.S. Coast Guard delivered 200 boxes of halibut to Nome. The fish will soon be shipped to communities affected by the low walrus harvest. (Photo: Donna James)

The halibut comes as a donation from SeaShare, a Washington state nonprofit that supplies seafood to hunger-relief efforts.

All four communities declared states of economic disaster after a spring harvest that Vera Metcalf called significantly worse than usual. Metcalf is director of the Eskimo Walrus Commission and worked with the communities to declare their disasters. She said the Commission reached out to the state of Alaska and the Governor’s Office for help, through Rep. Neal Foster and Sen. Donny Olson.

“Their staffs were really good about following up with our concerns, making sure the communities were aware that the State of Alaska and Walker’s administration were aware of the situation,” Metcalf said. “And this halibut came around and it was available and it’s free and the communities wanted access to that.”

The U.S. Coast Guard brought the frozen halibut to Nome free of charge, and James said Kawerak is working with Bering Air, Erickson Helicopters, and Ravn Alaska to organize free freight delivery to the four communities.

Although the donation is good news, Metcalf said it’s only a temporary solution as climate change makes hunting more difficult.

“In the event that another disaster is declared — What do we do? And how do we move forward? We need to come up with a long-term plan,” she said.

For now, Metcalf said the donation will be a big help, even if it doesn’t entirely solve the food shortages.

“I know it won’t fill the nutritional value that a walrus or other marine mammals provide, but it’s there and it’ll be put to good use,” she said.

The halibut will ship out as soon Kawerak can coordinate delivery with the different airlines. Kawerak will then distribute the fish equally to households in each community.