Nowhere in the world do people have more say in shaping fisheries policy than in Alaska. While the outcomes might get mixed rants and reviews, no one is ever denied the chance to state ideas, concerns and gripes to decision-makers.
Several opportunities are available right now. First off, a revised draft of the Magnuson-Stevens Act was just released for public review and comment. The MSA is the primary federal law that governs all fisheries management in U.S. waters; it is undergoing reauthorization targeted for completion at the end of this year. Comments will be taken until the bill moves through the Senate to the full Congress for final action. Find more information at the Department of Commerce. Comments also can be sent to Sen. Mark Begich, who chairs the Senate Committee on Oceans, Fisheries and Coast Guard.
Revised protection measures are being proposed for Western Steller sea lions in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands. The changes could reopen fishing for cod, Atka mackerel and other groundfish for the first time in five years. Comments to NOAA Fisheries are accepted through Aug. 15.
It's the last chance to comment on the proposed KSM gold/copper open pit mine just 19 miles north of the Alaska border. KSM would be one of the largest mines in North America, operating at the headwaters of trans-boundary rivers flowing to Juneau, Petersburg and other Southeast Alaska regions. Currently, there are no enforceable policies in place to safeguard Alaska's fish and clean water from upstream industrial development. Deadline to comment is Aug. 20.
The public has until Sept. 19 to comment to the Environmental Protection Agency on its intent to protect salmon and habitat at Bristol Bay by imposing tough watershed restrictions on large mines in the region. The EPA has scheduled a series of seven public hearings starting Aug. 12 in Anchorage, followed by meetings throughout the Bristol Bay region.
Fish skin baskets
Audrey Armstrong of Galena remembers the day she was first inspired to make beautiful things from salmon skins. It was Sept. 4, 2002, and she was mesmerized by a king salmon she had caught.
"The colors were so beautiful, and I said to myself, 'I know a long time ago they used to make garments and baskets and different containers out of fish skin. I wonder if I could make something out of this skin?' And that is how I started," Armstrong said in a phone interview.
It was difficult to learn the traditional techniques, as the history for the old ways was lost.
"There was nothing really written. And I think the oldest piece I saw from my culture was from 1849. It was a child's mittens made out of fish skins. They are so beautiful. So now the majority of us working with fish skin, it is all by trial and error and by talking to other people who are working with fish skin and trying to bring it back. We are all learning from each other," she said.
Armstrong uses an ulu to clean and scrape any fat from the skins, which keeps them from spoiling. She cleans and freezes the skins and hand sews each piece as it is pulled from a cooler.
"Because it will dry out real fast as you are sewing, so you have to keep putting it back in the cooler. And then you put it over your mold and it becomes a basket, or a vase or a bag. It becomes whatever you are making. So my baskets have this hard surface to the skin, and then I decorate them with beads, abalone shells, and dentalia shells, which represent the status of our Athabascan chiefs."
Armstrong's favorite fish skin to work with is king salmon. She has won numerous art awards for her work, which is displayed across Alaska and elsewhere. She also shares her skill at workshops all over the state.
New fish advisor
Gov. Sean Parnell on Friday appointed Ben Mohr as his new fisheries advisor.
Mohr previously was public information specialist for the Pebble Partnership for six years and was former campaign manager for Dan Sullivan, candidate for U.S. Senate. Mohr replaces Stephanie Moreland as the governor's fisheries advisor.
Two Sitka fishing projects received grant awards from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation's Fisheries Innovation Fund, a program launched in 2010 to support sustainable US fisheries and fishermen.
The Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust received $135,000 to develop and deploy processes "for inter-generational transfer of fishery rights and best practices." The proposed project "utilizes existing legal and financial mechanisms in a novel way to achieve the goal of increased retention of economic benefits from fisheries in Gulf of Alaska communities."
Another $38,000 went to the Alaska Longline Fishermen's Association to move Electronic Monitoring systems from a pilot stage to use out on the water.
Laine Welch is a Kodiak-based fisheries journalist. Contact her at email@example.com.