According to SCS, participation in school lunch at Keet Gooshi Heen increases on days when local fish is served.

HB 179 would legalize the donation of fish and game, harvested through sport or subsistence, to non-profit meal programs, such as schools and senior centers. The bill is inspired by the success of such programs as Sitka’s Fish to Schools. (Robert Woolsey/KCAW photo)

Last Wednesday (4-1-15), eight legislators introduced a bill that would allow Alaskans to donate sport- and subsistence-harvested fish and game to non-profit meal programs. Under House Bill 179, schools, senior centers, and other non-profits could legally serve donated fish and game, such as moose, venison, caribou, and salmon. Alaska law presently bars the sale of such foods.

Sitka Democrat Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins is the primary sponsor of HB 179. He says it’s about writing legislation to catch up with the times.

“Out in the bush, a lot of people in Western or Northern Alaska will donate caribou to the senior center, so that elders can eat caribou stew and that happens very frequently,” said Kreiss-Tomkins. “That’s technically not simpatico with the rule of the law. So this bill basically brings what happens in Alaskan communities – which is people coming together and donating fish and game for children or for elders – and makes that compatible with what Alaska’s laws say.”

Kreiss-Tomkins says the bill also responds to a statewide movement within schools to eat food that’s healthier and locally sourced. As examples, he mentioned Sitka’s Fish to Schools program and community supported agriculture in the Mat-Su Valley.

The bill had seven co-sponsors when it was read across the floor. They include Reps. Cathy Muñoz (R-Juneau), Charisse Millett (R-Anchorage), Dan Ortiz (I-Ketchikan), Louise Stutes (R-Kodiak), Neal Foster (D-Nome), Sam Kito III (D-Juneau), and Tammie Wilson (R-North Pole).

Kreiss-Tomkins considered such early sponsorship unusual, but indicative of the bill’s widespread support.

“We’ve sponsored a number of different pieces of legislation but this is one we’d like to see pass in the law quickly,” said Kreiss-Tomkins. “We’re on that path right now. So I think that’s why [this bill] got a little more attention. It’s got hearings coming up, it’s got a huge list of co-sponsors, and it’s a Kumbaya Alaska issue. Everyone gets it.”

HB 179 is in hearings this week.