Background image of Kelly Harrell stands in a tidal zone with mountains in the background

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Fish-focused leadership

From supporting new markets to building awareness around ocean resources, Kelly Harrell, our new Anchorage-based fisheries program director, envisions thriving coastal communities.

What’s something lower 48’ers may not know about life in Alaska?

Most people likely don’t know that we have a thriving local food and farmers’ market scene. In Anchorage where I live (the state’s largest city with a population of about 300,000), we have around ten farmers’ markets, several CSA farms, a regional food hub, and access to seafood from fishermen who direct market their catch as well as community supported fisheries (CSFs). Alaska’s long hours of daylight in the summer, the use of high tunnels and greenhouses to extend growing seasons, the startup of indoor growing operations, and increased popularity of home gardening have significantly enhanced our access to healthy, local produce over the past ten years. It’s an important part of the Alaskan culture to harvest wild food, to know where your food comes from, and to have respect for the places, people, and ecosystems that provide for us.

How did you first become involved with community supported fisheries?

One of the first passion projects I took on when I became executive director of the Alaska Marine Conservation Council in 2010 was to pilot a seafood sales program bringing Kodiak Tanner crab to consumers in Alaska. The Kodiak Tanner crab fishery is conducted by small-boat fishermen, and we had worked with them for many years on an array of issues including habitat protection. Tanner crab is a larger cousin to the more familiar snow crab and is an amazing product, but most of the crab has historically been shipped to Japan and is not available for local purchase. We wanted to figure out if we could divert some of the supply chain to local and regional markets, while getting community-based fishermen a higher price and telling the story of the unique, Tanner crab fishery to Alaskan consumers. The pilot was extremely successful, and we continued to build out the program into an award-winning community supported fishery now called, Catch 49: Alaska’s Seafood Hub.

What drew you to Ecotrust?

Alaska Marine Conservation Council (AMCC) has been a long-time partner with Ecotrust and the organizations have similar missions and values that deeply resonate with me. During my 12 years at AMCC, I watched or was directly engaged in collaborations related to fisheries trusts, local fishing opportunities, and most recently, the Community Fisheries Network that Ecotrust coordinates and I have served on the steering committee of. I admired Ecotrust’s niche in the fisheries space and was at a point in my career where I was ready to funnel my energy directly towards an entrepreneurial approach to innovations for healthy fishing communities.

What’s your favorite ocean creature?

Probably the chambered nautilus. The Cephalopod family overall (which includes octopuses) are awe-inspiring creatures that remind me of the extreme intelligence and beauty of nature.

What are you reading right now?

Fish House Opera by Susan West and Barbara Garrity-Blake. The book highlights the trials and tribulations of North Carolina fishing families. I’m originally from southeast Virginia with family in North Carolina’s Outer Banks, where I spent much time growing up, so the book hits close to home for me.

What are you most looking forward to in your new position?

Spending time in fishing communities across the Pacific Northwest and building relationships with the amazing people and places along the way. While the career path I’ve chosen is as a “fish booster” rather than a fish harvester, I love to hop on boats whenever I can and look forward to weaving connections across communities…and hopefully getting a little slimy and seasick along the way.

What’s your guilty pleasure?

It’s not necessarily a “guilty pleasure” but I love scouting farmers’ markets, seafood shops, or specialty stores, and supporting local growers and harvesters and innovative food producers. It can get expensive, but I rarely, if ever, feel guilty for spending my dollars on loads of goodies with good stories!

How do you envision your work through Ecotrust impacting your corner of the world?

Alaska is in great need of capacity and leadership to spur innovative, economic solutions that benefit the environment and communities, while considering impacts on our planet’s climate. And the timing is ripe to bring Ecotrust’s unique brand of economic development to the state as it faces tough fiscal times due to continued low oil prices. Ecotrust has long held deep partnerships in Alaska and the opportunities to support our tremendous fisheries and ocean resources are especially promising. I’m excited to bring Ecotrust to the table in a bigger way to help create positive change for our coastal communities here, and throughout the Northwest.