WSU Extension, UW program, and local business come together to feed people during pandemic

Neah Bay, WA – Cape Flattery Fishermen’s Cooperative, Washington State University Extension, and Washington Sea Grant are working together to provide healthy, locally-sourced fish to food banks around the Olympic Peninsula and other parts of northwest Washington.

4 people with masks covering their noses and mouths stand next to several cardboard boxes filled with fish.
WSU Extension’s Kellie Henwood (far left) and Washington SeaGrant’s Sarah Fisken (far right) delivered several boxes of true cod from Cape Flattery Fishermen’s Co-Op to volunteers at the Jefferson County Food Bank in Port Hadlock, Wash. last month.

The cooperative, a local fishery based in Neah Bay, donated or sold over 4,500 pounds of fish to food banks in May and June. Their surplus of over 8,000 pounds of frozen true cod was due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We normally sell our fish all over United States and even in China, but that wasn’t an option after everything shut down,” said Hazel Secor, the manager of Cape Flattery. “We’re a small company and when we have fish that we can’t sell, we’re happy to donate or sell to a food bank. We just don’t want it to go to waste.”

The co-op is owned and operated by fishermen from the Makah tribe in and around Neah Bay. True cod is normally what you get when you order fish and chips at a restaurant, Secor said, calling it “light and tasty.”

WSU Extension works closely with Washington Sea Grant, a program of the University of Washington, in areas where agriculture and aquaculture overlap.

“We’ve been looking for ways to support local fisheries for the last few years,” said Karlena Brailey, a Community Health and Food Access Coordinator for WSU Extension. “We want people to be able to have local fish available. We want everyone on the peninsula to have access to this healthy protein source.”

Extension has been finding ways to get healthy food to people of all income levels for several years. They’ve worked on gleaning programs, where farmers donate produce left in the field after harvest, and assisted food banks in purchasing vegetables from local small farms, Brailey said.

Frozen fish fillets stacked together, wrapped in a plastic bag, on top of a cardboard box full of frozen fish.
Some of the fish that was boxed up by WSU Extension specialists that was later distributed to food banks.

“We’ve got this expertise and Sea Grant has relationships with companies like Cape Flattery,” she said. “So when COVID happened, it all just fell into place between us.”

People who live on the peninsula don’t often have access to fish caught nearby, said Sarah Fisken, a Marine Operations Specialist with Sea Grant.

“Most of this fish gets sent to restaurants in Seattle, or other cities on the west coast,” Fisken said. “But we’ve talked to people that have gotten true cod from this project and they really love it.”

This collaboration has included more than just connecting the co-op with food banks. Fisken and Brailey helped box up approximately 1,000 pounds of fish, which food banks around Port Angeles came and picked up.

“It really worked out well,” Brailey said. “The fish got to the food banks on the same day we boxed it up.”

Kellie Henwood, from WSU Jefferson County Extension, was also heavily involved in this project and helped deliver boxes of fish to food banks. Henwood is based out of the same office as Fisken during non-pandemic work times.

The first boxes were delivered in May, and other food banks in Jefferson County got a supplemental order in June. Cape Flattery is looking to work with other interested food banks in northwest Washington.

“We’ve got more fish to move,” Secor said. “We’re proud to be helping feed people during these challenging times.”