By: Hannah Heimbuch, Community Fisheries Organizer
While Alaska’s communities are diverse and often geographically distant, what they share coast-wide is a historic fisheries tradition — one that has sustained Alaskans through food, cultural heritage and economy. Increasingly, however, these communities also have in common a shrinking number of fishermen.
Just after the New Year, community and fisheries leaders from around the state gathered in Anchorage to discuss coastal Alaska’s continued loss of fisheries access — through outmigration of permits and quota, fleet consolidation, stock depletion by other fisheries, and other factors. January’s Fisheries Access Workshop, hosted by Alaska Sea Grant, was a two-day forum covering the serious implications these losses have to community health across the state.
This is not a new problem. Presenters, like Steve Langdon and Robin Samuelsen, outlined decades worth of information that showed coastal Alaska’s not-so-gradual exit from local fisheries — often one of the few if not only robust local economies. AMCC’s Dr. Rachel Donkersloot and Dr. Courtney Carothers of UAF presented their Graying of the Fleet research, showing the profound effects that declining fisheries access has on individual and community health in coastal communities. Leaders from across Alaska spoke to how these impacts are being felt in their regions, and also to the significant barriers to entry, made even more challenging in areas with a limited cash economy. Those include high costs, complex and changing management systems, and loss of skills through non-participation, among others.
While these are ongoing issues, the workshop also highlighted a strong and growing momentum toward finding solutions that mean real and lasting change for coastal Alaska. Lt. Governor Byron Mallott spoke to the urgency with which this issue need be addressed. Alaskan success stories, like that of the Norton Sound red king crab fishery, offered a promising example of a community regaining access to a local fishery. Other speakers focused on efforts that offer options for moving forward; Representative Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins speaking to the concept of community permit banks, and AMCC’s Kodiak staffer Theresa Peterson joining Ernie Weiss from the Aleutian’s East Borough to discuss community fishing associations.
This issue has been tackled around the nation and indeed the world, and the Alaska group had the benefit of hearing from several places outside the state, including Maine, Cape Cod, Iceland, Norway and Denmark. These presenters shared their own stories of community access loss, and the diverse solutions they’ve developed — including apprenticeship and student-licensing programs in Maine, and community permits banks in Cape Cod.
This wealth of information was followed by heated discussion in the break out groups, it became clear that the path forward will not be simple. But despite diverse concerns for the future, the unifying need to halt and reverse the trend of fisheries access loss in Alaska has certainly and will continue to bring community and fisheries leaders together. Now is the time to find real and meaningful solutions that build toward sustainable fisheries and fishing communities, and AMCC looks forward to continued participation in this essential progress.
To watch the workshop’s video archive or download presentations please click here.
By Hannah Heimbuch
It’s amazing what you can fit into three days. In the case of three Alaska Marine Conservation Council (AMCC) staff members this October, it was more than 6,000 miles, a half-day of lobbying training and several dozen meetings with congressional offices, agency leaders, and conservation partners in our nation’s capital.
This trip to Washington, D.C. was my first, and allowed me to witness firsthand what it looks like when diverse groups truly collaborate in pursuit of a better future. This is the promise I see in the Fishing Communities Coalition (FCC).
Presenting as a unified voice on national fisheries policy, the FCC is made up of conservation-minded, community-based fishing organizations that have found common ground in their policy concerns, despite hailing from different corners of America’s coastline. At present, the FCC includes AMCC and the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, both from Alaska; the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholder’s Alliance, from Texas; and the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association and Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance, both calling New England home.
For a few short, busy days, we joined our partners from the FCC to visit House and Senate offices on Capitol Hill. We were there to introduce ourselves to decision makers from coastal states across the country. Collectively, we spoke to agency leaders and congressional staffers, covering a variety of policy issues important to our small boat fleets: bycatch reduction, electronic/at-sea monitoring, community access to local fisheries, and improved fisheries data collection, and a strengthened Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA) reauthorization bill.
As House and Senate offices look at options for MSA reauthorization moving forward, the FCC believes it is vital that this important law uphold or enhance current standards of science-based, conservation-minded fisheries management, while also ensuring access for local communities. These essential measures guide the sustainability of our nation’s fish stocks and fishing communities.
In the bycatch realm, we shared important information about the halibut bycatch crisis occurring in the Bering Sea — from the massive removal of juvenile halibut by trawl vessels, to the precarious health of directed halibut fisheries coast-wide. The group reminded congressional delegates of the national importance of the halibut fishery, and of the bad precedent being set, with halibut bycatch becoming the priority use of halibut in the North Pacific.
Group members also voiced a need for progressive policies supporting robust at-sea or electronic monitoring, and cohesion of those practices across Council regions. Issues of insufficient data, major funding challenges, and ease of small-boat monitoring were important coalition-wide, including to small boat fleets in New England deeply concerned about excessive haddock bycatch.
Finally, we communicated the continued need to support local access to fisheries. The coalition shared the success stories and ongoing needs for those access rights by pointing out unique community solutions across the country, such as permit and quota banks, while also pushing for improved community access provisions in the reauthorized MSA.
During our Capital Hill visits, our coalition team divided up into two groups and managed to make 21 meetings with Senate and House staffers in a single day. We covered some significant ground — both under our feet and in our policy work — using our united voice to amplify these important issues. We were able to meet directly with two Alaskan delegates, Senator Lisa Murkowski and Representative Don Young. Sitting next to fellow fishermen and fisheries leaders from around the country, and speaking together for responsible policies, was a truly empowering experience.
It is AMCC’s hope that as we continue to advocate for federal policies that support a sustainable fishing future, we can offer that experience to more of our community fishermen, infusing voices from Alaska’s small boat fisheries into this national arena. We believe it’s particularly vital that young fishermen are given the opportunity to participate in this policy work, something I personally look forward to developing.
Those of us that hope to be fishing for the next 30 years — those of us that want to continue the tradition of fishing families and strong local fisheries — must help to guide the long-term vision of the federal policies that do and will shape management of our marine resources. We must demand robust science- and conservation-based standards that allow fisheries, communities and ecosystems to thrive together.
It was incredibly encouraging to see the FCC paving the way for more community voices — the young and veteran alike — to be heard in a meaningful and collaborative way at a national level. As I head back home to Alaska, it is with the knowledge that our local, regional and statewide work is united with this national conservation ethic, of which AMCC and its members should be proud.
by Sam Baker & Rachel Donkersloot
Last week we returned rejuvenated from the annual Bioneers Summit Conference in San Rafael, CA. The multifaceted event, what speaker, author and activist Naomi Klein describes as a ‘transformational meeting of minds’ melds conversations about indigenous rights, local and sustainable food systems, women’s rights, and other social and scientific topics, and left a strong imprint on both of us and re-ignited a spark of creativity in our work at AMCC.
We were both particularly impressed by the amazing work that is being done by groups like the Greenhorns,and the National Young Farmers Coalition who are actively addressing the challenges that new and young farmers in the U.S. face today through innovations and tools like Farm Hack and Agrarian Trust and epic awareness raising endeavors like the Vermont Sail Freight Project. While we were learning about all of the inspiring work and resources aimed at young farmers, we were reminded that there is overlap and opportunity here in Alaska, and AMCC hopes to help foster the type of community and support for young fishermen that is gaining traction among our friends in the farming world.
While we study issues like the Graying of the Fleet, and work to inform fisheries policy that protects working fishermen and benefits our fishery dependent communities, we hope also to facilitate the creation of forums for young fishermen and to advance the discussion on linkages between intergenerational access, community sustainability and resilient, regional food systems.
We intend to continue our conversations with luminaries like Severine von Tscharner Fleming of the Greenhorns and Dune Lankard of the Eyak Preservation Council in the coming months and to invite others to the table to take part through upcoming events like the Alaska Food Festival & Conference. AMCC has organized two fisheries focused panels at the conference which will hopefully serve as a springboard for potential solutions to some of the challenges Alaska’s community-based fishermen face today surrounding access and profitability.
On a final note, food systems, young farmers and land access rights may have piqued our primary interest at the conference , but various iterations of citizen science also caught our attention. Hearing from groups like Public Lab in the Gulf of Mexico, we were inspired to think of the many ways we could engage Alaskans through citizen science on important research like ocean acidification. We are excited to announce that this approach will fit into some new work we will be doing next year to bring informational and interactive ocean acidification kiosks to communities throughout coastal Alaska.
Overall, the Bioneers Conference was one of great learning and great brainstorming and we are lucky to have had the opportunity to attend. We wish there was space for us to share all of the exciting science and social endeavors we learned about at the conference. For now though, we are happy to be home in Alaska and we are ready to get back to work turning some of these ideas into concrete and collaborative projects aimed at achieving triple bottom line benefits for people, profit and planet.