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It takes more than swimming through oceans and rivers for Alaska fish to land on a school lunch menus. The fish know how to get to Alaska, but a new research team will study how to lure them into Alaska school lunchrooms.
Alaska wild fish headed to rural school lunches 062911 NEWS 4 Capital City Weekly It takes more than swimming through oceans and rivers for Alaska fish to land on a school lunch menus. The fish know how to get to Alaska, but a new research team will study how to lure them into Alaska school lunchrooms.
Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Story last updated at 6/29/2011 - 1:27 pm

Alaska wild fish headed to rural school lunches

It takes more than swimming through oceans and rivers for Alaska fish to land on a school lunch menus. The fish know how to get to Alaska, but a new research team will study how to lure them into Alaska school lunchrooms.

University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) nutrition researcher Andrea Bersamin and her colleagues will begin studying the best ways to connect fishermen and processors with K-12 schools to provide wild fish to Alaska's school children, provide opportunities for food systems and nutrition education, and support local businesses.

"The question is whether we can improve the nutrition and health of Alaska kids, many of whom eat two meals per weekday at school, and meet the economic needs of local fish businesses at the same time," said Bersamin, a Center for Alaska Native Health Research (CANHR) nutrition scientist who is leading the project.

The center, which is part of the UAF Institute of Arctic Biology, received a three-year, $1.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the Fisheries to Schools project. It will build on previous CANHR findings that traditional foods, such as fish, are rich sources of omega-3 fats and vitamin D, and appear to have a protective influence in the health of the Yup'ik people who regularly eat it. The Fisheries to Schools study will take place in the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta.

There are a number of examples of schools using Alaska fish in school meals, Bersamin said, but this is the first time the idea will be subjected to scientific rigor. The CANHR project is based on USDA's Farm to School project, she said. "It will connect kids to the local food system and how to use it."

The Fisheries to Schools program has three major components: an economic feasibility study, curriculum and program development, and finally, an evaluation of the effectiveness of the program, Bersamin said.

The research grant includes money to purchase fish from fisherman and fish processors and provide it to school lunch programs. The type of fish and how it is prepared will depend on student and school preferences and availability.

"We will be doing a cost analysis to produce the product," said Quentin Fong, seafood marketing specialist with UAF's Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program and Fishery Industrial Technology Center in Kodiak. "This way those businesses may get an idea of if there is opportunity out there to produce it and calculate the profit margin to see if we can move this product into the school system."

Currently, about 1 percent of commercially caught fish stays in Alaska. If this new program is successful, more fish could stay in the state, Fong said. Researchers don't know whether providing fish to schools is economically feasible for fishermen and processors, but the team could forward tax incentive proposals to policymakers if it is not, Fong said.

Bersamin and her team will study whether the plumped-up fish diet provides a nutritional boost for the students who participate in the program. If successful, the Fisheries to Schools idea will be developed for a statewide application, Bersamin said.

For more information, visit canhr.uaf.edu or www.farmtoschool.org.

- University of Alaska Fairbanks