The Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission has received a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help tribes prepare for new regulations under the Food Safety Modernization Act.
The law, signed by President Barack Obama in 2011, gives the Food and Drug Administration new authority to regulate how foods are grown, harvested and processed in the United States. That affects how tribal members will need to handle, process and document the salmon they harvest from the Columbia River.
CRITFC — which represents the Umatilla, Warm Springs, Yakama and Nez Perce tribes — will use the $99,842 grant from USDA Rural Development on training and education.
Harvesting salmon represents a multimillion-dollar industry to Columbia River tribes in Oregon and Washington. Buck Jones, salmon marketing specialist for CRITFC, said there are approximately 600 to 800 individual tribal members that fish on the river.
Sale of tribally caught fish most frequently takes place at sites along the river, or at farmers markets, restaurants and to wholesalers in major markets such as Portland and Seattle. Jones said CRITFC has already organized its own food safety group, and they will begin visiting directly with the four member tribes.
“This is something that’s going to affect our tribal fishermen broadly in the next three years,” Jones said. “It’s really going to be a lot more documentation and traceability from the time they catch the fish themselves.”
In addition, the USDA grant will help CRITFC identify commercial kitchens within tribal communities that meet federal food safety standards where members can develop specialized products and learn about packaging, labeling and other development techniques.
Jones said the tribes have already made enormous strides in marketing their fish harvest, investing in stronger boats and working on projects to boost salmon runs in recent years. More than 350 members have also voluntarily taken food safety classes for hazard analysis and critical control, representing more than 5,000 hours of instruction.
“We had a stigma for years of tribal fish not being a (quality) product,” Jones said. “We’ve eliminated that now. Our fisheries have come a long way.”
Under the Food Safety Modernization Act, tribes will have to go through extra steps to document that tribally caught fish are handled and processed at the highest safety and quality standards in order to maximize the market value. The increased revenue, in turn, will go back to supporting tribal families and communities, according to the USDA.