First Fish Wednesday!

On Wednesday, Sept. 2, all schools in the Sitka public school system will be serving locally-caught fish! The school district will be serving fish every Wednesday this school year.

Sitka School District schools have been serving locally-caught fish in their school lunches for three years. But starting today, kids will be eating coho caught right in their own backyard every Wednesday!

Fish to Schools was a brainchild of the fall 2010 Sitka Health Summit and a pilot program began in the spring of 2011 with Blatchley Middle School serving fish in school lunches once a month. Since that time, the program has expanded to become a state-funded initiative that brings locally caught fish into public school lunches all across Alaska.

The Sitka Conservation Society has been an instrumental part of the program development, with Tracy Gagnon leading the charge.

"It's a viable way to connect the fishing fleet to young people," Gagnon said. "It connects fishermen to the classroom."

Gagnon said that they did not advertise as much for donations this year, but the support that came in was overwhelming. They received double of what they asked for in this year's donation drive - 1,000 pounds of fish.

"Overall it's very exciting," Gagnon said. "What a generous fishing fleet!"

With state funding, the Sitka School District will be able to start paying fishermen to have their catches served in school lunches.

"Donating actual coho is so much more meaningful than writing a check," Beth Short-Rhoads said. She is one of the coordinators of the Fish to Schools program. "It's like giving time on the ocean, the excitement of landing a gorgeous fish, and the satisfaction of working hard for a way of life they love," she said.

Today, Wednesday Sept. 2, marks the first day of a fully year of fish lunches on Wednesdays. Lunches will be offered at Baranof Elementary, Keet Gooshi Heen, Blatchley Middle School, Sitka High School, Pacific High Schools, Mount Edgecumbe High School, SEER School, & Head Start.

"There's a certain poetry that people eat food from the lands and waters around them. In Alaska, that means fish caught fresh from the Pacific and not fried chicken from Kentucky," Alaska House Representative Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins said.

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