This is a story, or part of one, written in today's Anchorage Daily News (you can read the whole story at ADN.com):
A heartsick letter describing cash-strapped families choosing between food and heating fuel in the village of Emmonak has state officials reconsidering a long-simmering request to declare a financial disaster in the region.I am posting this story here because I hope you focus on the problem of the people in Western Alaska not being able to care for themselves, much less their families. This can be due to the large salmon by catch the pollock industry has when they are fishing for pollock in Bristol Bay. We at Greenpeace have been working to force the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council to cut down the salmon by catch, or cut the pollock fishery down to a few days to stop the constant raping of the ocean, taking much needed food away from our people in the villages.
"I'm just now today getting information in from surrounding villages," said Tara Jollie, director of the state Division of Community and Regional Affairs.
A letter written by Nicholas Tucker of Emmonak describing parents battling to feed their families in his hometown -- plus concerns from others in the region -- prompted state department heads to plan a teleconference this morning. The topic: a crippling combination of high fuel prices, poor commercial fishing prospects and an unusual cold snap in the Yup'ik village and others like it.
One of the more serious problems facing the people, especially the children of Village Alaska, is malnutrition. When we are not able to get our foods, especially the food we have depended upon for thousands of years, many physical and spiritual problems develop. This is the main reason we have been working on the establishment of the Marine Cultural Heritage Zones. We need to bring attention to this serious problem.
Thank you all for your continued support and attention. We are working diligently to bring environmental justice to Village Alaska.
When the fishing gear, be they larger than football field sized nets that drag the oceans floor for fish, crab pots, longline fishing hooks, or other gear used to catch and kill fish, much more than fish are being destroyed. Lets look at one of them. The deep-sea trawlers that hunt and search for pollock and other flat fishes.
The first major commercial groundfish fishery in the Gulf of Alaska targeted Pacific Ocean perch. The size of the catch rose quickly through the early 1960’s until the resource was depleted. The fishery then began targeting walley pollock. As happened with perch, the catch of pollock rose gradually through 1980 when a large spawning aggregation was discovered in the waters off of Kodiak Island. Over the next 5 years the spawning aggregation was heavily exploited and the fishery peaked and collapsed. (Trites 1991).
The same picture can be painted for these fisheries in the Bering Sea. Yellowfin sole catches rose from 1954 to 1961 until the stock declined due to overfishing. As the yellowfin sole declined, the fishery moved to pollock. (Trites 1991).
Now we know that the pollock fishery in the Kodiak waters, the Bogoslov Island waters, and the Aleutian Islands have either been shut down due to overfishing or their catchable amounts severely cut because of overfishing. So what’s new? Outside multinational fishing companies see an opportunity to exploit beyond reason, come into our waters and destroy. Sounds like a familiar tune when discussing other resources in our Great State? Oil and gas, minerals, forests, salmon populations and sadly, people.
Its beginning to sound like a problem that needs some serious attention from our state and federal governments. After all, our governments lay claim to represent all the people of both our State and Nation. Oh ya, we do have such oversight boards and councils. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the Alaska Board of Fish (ABF) are legally charged with that responsibility. And to help in these processes, Advisory Councils are put in place to help give direction. NMFS has the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) and the ABF has regional advisory Councils. But guess what? The NPFMC and the ABF are stocked, not with fish, but with commercial fishing representatives and interests to make these decisions. And these councils and boards are ripe for the plucking. Industry lobbyists and lawyers often wine and dine these “representatives of the people’s resource” to get their quotas, no matter the science. And they often get their way. Take a quick look at the NPFMC’s web site and see who the Council members are and whom they work for.
“Drill, baby, drill” is not a new cry for resource development at any cost. In the 1980’s and 1990’s and up to this day it has been “fish, baby, fish” before there are no more fish to catch. With the problems of climate change, other animals’ populations crashing and people being dislocated, it is time to reappoint “representative” people to these councils and boards. Industry greed and ways of doing business has got to stop. There is a lot of talk these days about reform. If ever an industry needed reform, this is it.
Just last year, the NPFMC cut the total amount of pollock catch a whopping 24% from the year before! If that same amount of decline were done to, say, the oil and gas industries, you would hear a loud cry from the public. We need to pay close attention to the reasons for this kind of management of our resources. One of the reasons given for the drastic cut the pollock fishery took was lack of recruitment. Oh ya. I forgot to tell you that twice a year, millions of pounds of pollock roe, the caviar of the Bering Sea, is auctioned off to a hand full of “by invitation only” companies.
“Fish, baby, fish.”
This is the people’s resource put into the trusting hands of appointed Councils. We must hold them accountable. They work for us, not the industry.
I was in Anchorage last week for the Alaska Marine Science Symposium, presenting some of the findings from our 2007 Bering Sea Canyons Expedition. I was presenting a poster, which is a common way to feature preliminary findings at scientific conferences, showcasing new coral data. Bob Stone, the NOAA ecologist who was on board the Esperanza with us, was the other author.
I like poster presentations because you get a chance to interact with a large number of people, as opposed to oral presentations, where aside from a few questions it's largely a one-way lecture. This way, I got to see people do a double take when they saw the paired NOAA and Greenpeace logos on the poster. For those that read the conclusion, they saw that we - that's Greenpeace and NOAA - "recommend that canyon coral habitats be prioritized for protection and that additional research is undertaken to fully document the sensitive habitats in the region."
Our findings also included several coral species that were previously unrecorded in the Bering Sea, as well as others that had never been found so far north. Five corals were described as "common" or "abundant in one or both of the canyons we visited. In all, we found at least fourteen species.
Michelle Ridgway teamed up with legendary geologist David Scholl for a keynote presentation linking the physical structure of the canyons with the ecology of these highly productive features. Of the more than 600 scientists, policy makers, and industry lobbyists who attended the Symposium, I think it's safe to say that nearly all of them have a better understanding of the importance of the canyons than they did a week ago.
Meanwhile, the canyons will continue to face heavy fishing pressure until policy makers act to protect these vulnerable habitats. How much more damage will be done in the meantime?
I hope I can shed some light on how this North Pacific Fishery Management Council process takes place, of course from a position of bias and not so happy.
I have been attending the Council meetings, off and on, for about 20 years or so. Began back in the day when we were fighting for the establishment of the Community Development Quota (CDQ) program which we hoped at the time would benefit the villages. It was a long battle and one you can read about just by goggling it, if you are interested. I want to, however say a few words about that later, as it sorely impacts the people in the villages.
If you want to know the details about the Council process you can also get on their web page at www.fakr.noaa.gov/npfmc. That is an interesting site. So I will simply give you a perspective from someone who is from a village, and also from my position as a Campaigner, time and space allowing.
Lets see. If I were living on St. Paul Island and I wanted to submit a comment on some issue the Council was addressing, it would probably go something like this.
The issue. Crab. How much? Well this year, some 63 million pounds. Sounds impressive, but when I was the pastor on St. Paul some 10 years ago, the quota was 250 million pounds, and the entire season began 15 January and lasted sometimes into May. Now its just about 2 weeks before the quota is caught. So lets say, I am an employee of the City government. We are interested because of the raw fish taxes we get from the processing of the product and the additional services, such as fuel sales, dockage fees, grocery sales and additional other services. So the local economy benefits from this activity. Now, keep in mind that I am working for a municipal government which probably can afford the rest of the story. The Tribes? Probably cannot afford to do this.
So, I write a position paper and submit it to the Council for consideration. Then it is decided that I should attend the meeting to submit verbal testimony to support our written position. I have to travel. Well, so, from St. Paul to Anchorage, where the meetings are usually held; sometimes they are held in Seattle Washington or Portland Oregon. So I have to buy a ticket. A round trip ticket to Anchorage from St. Paul on PenAir is about $900.00. Then I have to get a hotel and food, and maybe a car, but certainly a cab. So additional $180.00 per day per diem, or there abouts. So for one week, at $180.00 per day is? Ya, $1260.00. So now, with the air fare that totals, ya, $2,160.00 just to attend! For one person! There are other costs too, like being away from home, family, incidental expenses, etc.
So, usually the Council begins meeting on a Monday. The SSC or the Scientific and Statistical Committee begins bright and early in the morning. Now I have to follow the issue and try to figure out where and when the issue will be addressed by the committee. Sometimes, and more often than not, the agenda is moved around, often without much notice, so I have to sit there throughout the entire day and listen to hours and hours of stuff I have not idea about. This report, that testimony. Lots of stuff. Oh we get breaks, and when that happens, I will try to corner someone from the committee to lobby. But I am relatively unknown, and often the members have buds or other people who are "council groopies" that are better known and more attuned to the issues that get the time and the ears. So, I try to wiggle my way into some conversation with someone. Then back to the meeting and more listening. Now, the issue on the crab is being discussed. First there will be staff reports, scientist reports, and others who signed up to testify. Then, if I signed up, my time will come. I am called to the hot seat by the chairperson. The committee are all sitting at tables arranged usually in kinda a circle, with table cloths shrouded on them, microphones, lots of papers and folders and notebooks, really looking knowledgeable. So I walk up to the table, sit down, introduce myself and say what issue I want to address. Now, figure. An entire table of experts. An audience of about 30 people. Bright lights. Microphones. And I begin to talk. Usually I will have about 3 to 6 minutes to say what I wanna say. Then questions from the committee, if any, and I am done. Whew...public speaking. Not fun.
But that is basically what happens, and happens both at the Advisory Panel (AP), which meets from Monday to usually Friday of the same week, and usually at the same time as the SSC is meeting, and sometimes the issue I wanna comment on is taken up at the same time there as in the SSC. Sometimes not. And all three meet in different rooms, and,yes, usually at the same times. But with the AP, the process is the same, and same set up, but this time with about 25 or so members on the panel. And 3 to 6 minutes to talk. And with the Council itself, usually the same. They usually meet from Tuesday to Saturday or Sunday. But here it is more intimidating, cause, well, they are THE Council. They have a bigger room with bigger tables and bigger chairs and more of an audience. And here, you get 3 minutes for an individual and 6 minutes for an organization to testify, and no more. There are green, yellow and red lights to tell you how much time you have. And, the Chair will say, "...thank you, your time is up." Any questions from the Council? If not, thanks. And its done. Here again, with the AP and the Council you try to lobby during breaks, but you also have additional competition from the other folks there. Lobbyists, processors, lawyers, fishers and long time friends who usually have the ear of the people you wanna talk to. And if you are lucky to get a Council member to talk to its usually really quick. They are on a break and have to go to the restroom or do something else. I personally have found some more approachable when I have followed them into the restroom, at least I can talk to them. So it is very difficult and extremely intimidating.
So, when John Hovevar wrote about our experience? Well, it was really something else. Imagine a person who lives in a village trying to do this. Imagine a person who's second language is english trying to do this. The expense? The intimidation? Ya, very little gets done if you are from a village. Unless of course if you are representing a CDQ organization, well, thats totally different. You will have bocoo bucks and paid lobbyists and lawyers to help you and speak for you. I have heard some of the executive directors of these organizations get paid upwards of $300,000 a year. They do this stuff. It is intimidating and really frustrating when and if you are a Tribal president trying to effectuate change. To protect your foods and your homes. It is nearly impossible to do it through this process.
This is why, it seems to me, the cultural heritage zones are the best chance to get protections for our families. We need to have a flag to rally around, an issue that makes sense. We need to help the people. We need support. For this, I am so grateful that Greenpeace is stepping up to the plate, not only to work to protect the oceans and habitat, but to help and support the Tribes on this planet we call mother earth.
This process is not fun. Not developed for people who live in villages, thats for sure. Too expensive and too foreign to our ways of living and communicating. But....?
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