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.