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Alaska fishermen are talking climate change; we'd better pay attention

Our wild fish -- especially salmon -- are a big part of my life. My family moved to Craig seven years ago, and in this short time fishing has become an integral part of my teenage years. Here, we get most of our food from the sea, and our town and the families that call Craig home rely on the income we get from fishing. Yet our way of life here is fragile, and already starting to shift due to the warming ocean temperatures and climate change.

I'm only 18 years old, but I've already experienced numerous personal benefits from fishing. I used to be overweight as a kid, and fishing is one of the things that really got me outside and has made me healthier and happier. Fishing in Southeast kept me active, and because we eat salmon all the time, I eat a lot better now too. During the summer I make money from our fishing industry by working for a processor. For me, and for the people of almost all the towns in Southeast Alaska, I rely on fishing for my income, diet, and lifestyle.

For the past several summers, I've worked for a seafood processor here in Craig. I make sure the line operates smoothly and help manage the docks. I regularly talk to the local fishermen that come to sell their fish to us, and learn about how their seasons are going. As a young person in Alaska, the scariest thing to hear from these fishermen is how salmon runs are getting smaller due to a changing climate. I hear their stories of past years, and see the impacts of these smaller runs firsthand on the processing line. It's been a record low season for the amount of salmon coming through our doors for the last couple of years I've worked at this processor, and some local fishing boats already quit their season early because they couldn't pay their fuel bills from the low number of fish they caught.

When I first started talking to these fishermen, I expected to hear about the price per pound for fish, the cost of fuel, and the news about local openers. What I didn't expect was that climate change would become the main topic of our conversations. They are experiencing climate change firsthand and, like many Alaskans across the state, are worried this is just the beginning.

It's time for us to address this issue of climate change and what it means for Alaska. Last spring, I joined with other teens from Alaska Youth for Environmental Action in asking Gov. Bill Walker to take action on climate change. Specifically we asked the Walker administration to reconvene a task force to address climate impacts and solutions for Alaska. But we want more than recommendations on what to do about this problem, we need to actually act now. We need a plan for how our communities, like my town of Craig, will adapt to, mitigate, and prevent future climate impacts -- and we need our Alaskan government to lead the way.

This week our president and international leaders have been in Alaska to discuss climate change. It is a great time for our state leadership to take action on this critical issue that is defining the future of my generation, and generations to come.

Patrick Marshall is a senior at Craig High School and a youth organizer with Alaska Youth for Environmental Action.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary@alaskadispatch.com

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