Fish a predominant source of food for low-income households, study finds

Access to locally caught seafood boosts the food security of low-income Kenai Peninsula households, according to a recent University of Alaska Fairbanks study.

The study, by Philip A Loring, Ph.D., examines the role locally caught seafood plays in the Kenai Peninsula’s overall availability of food and how climate change may impact the community.

“You can see all the waters around Alaska are warming, and various people have tried to see what kinds of changes these are going to cause in fisheries,” Loring said during a web-based seminar Tuesday. “While direct cause and effect relationships are always difficult to identify, we can say with some certainty that we can expect some changes.”

Loring said a reduction in fish abundance is one of the many possible changes, and that could cut into many families’ main source of food.

Of the 491 surveys returned, households that make less than $25,000, and between $25,000 to $50,000 lose a portion of access to food when their supply of fish drops, according to the study.

According to Kenai Peninsula Borough income data, 7.7 percent of families living on the Peninsula annually gross $15,000 to $24,999, and 8.6 percent and 10.1 percent annually gross $25,000 to $34,999 and $35,000 to $49,999, respectively.

Linda Swarner, Kenai Peninsula Food Bank executive director, said there are other factors at stake too that could cut into a lower-income family’s food supply.

“The one thing you don’t know is how far they are from needing help from one pay check getting cut or reduced,” Swarner said.

She said a large car or medical bill could leave a family in a lurch.

According to the study, all households rely predominantly on fishing for a majority of their fish, regardless of income. Households that gross less than $25,000 fish for about 45 percent of their total consumed fish; households that make more than $100,000 fish for about 80 percent of their total fish eaten, according to the study.

However, the lower income households — income levels between less than $25,000 and $50,000 — rely more heavily on sharing and trading for their fish, according to the study. A household that grosses less than $25,000 obtains about 30 percent of its fish from sharing and about 10 percent of its fish from trading. A household that makes $25,000 to $50,000 depends on about the same percentage of sharing to get its fish, but less than 5 percent of its total fish comes from trading.

“So, sure enough, we have really compelling evidence to suggest, I think, that access to local seafood (boosts food) security for the low income households on the Kenai Peninsula,” Loring said.

Dan Schwartz can be reached at daniel.schwartz@peninsulaclarion.com.

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