OPINION: Rural Alaska is suffering. Shutting down the Area M fishery isn’t the answer.

I was born and raised in the Interior, in the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim (AYK) region, to be exact. I grew up in a community that depends on subsistence fishing, and my childhood memories are dominated by recollections of my father, my mother and countless other members of my family and broader community going out on boats and bringing back the fish that our people have harvested and survived on for generations. I grew up fishing for subsistence, and I know how deeply important it is not only for physical survival but for the survival of our cultures and the identities of Native people across Alaska.

I have lived in False Pass seasonally over the past 10 years and have raised my kids there. They have been raised to know subsistence and value it. They have created their own memories, both in False Pass and in the AYK region with my family. I have seen the harvests change in my lifetime, from years of abundance to some years where there is nothing at all, and I am brokenhearted by the impossible situation many communities in the AYK — including the one I grew up in — find themselves in with increasingly diminished salmon runs. However, I know that shutting down the fishery often referred to as Area M that my community and many, many other communities in Western Alaska depend on will not solve any of the problems the AYK is facing. Instead, it will cause more communities to suffer. We know this because every major research study and dataset demonstrates that limiting or shutting down Area M fisheries will not solve the salmon return crisis in the AYK. This conclusion is also that of the Department of Fish and Game, supported by both NOAA and Fish and Game studies demonstrating the impact that five-plus years of poor ocean conditions have had on AYK chum salmon.

I have spent my entire life rooted in fisheries, both commercial and subsistence, and I know firsthand their importance. However, I also value science and research. Study after study has shown that the crash in AYK stocks is not related to the Area M salmon fishery. We owe it to ourselves and our children to discuss this issue with our eyes wide open to the facts, not blinded by fear and blame. While the decline in AYK salmon stocks is scary and threatening, it makes no sense — not scientifically, not economically, not culturally — to shut down the Area M fishery in an effort to somehow “save” the fisheries in the AYK. To me, this action looks and feels diametrically opposed to our culture and values.

We must model respectful behavior for our children. The behavior they are currently seeing is not indicative of who we are as people, as Alaska Natives and Alaskans in general. This infighting, this baseless blame — it is completely antithetical to the values we all hold dear and do our best to live by. This culture of Alaska Natives, which has been adopted more broadly by all of Alaska, is rooted in community, sharing, resiliency and tenacity — because without each other, without trust and common ground and willingness to come together, no one would survive here.

This is our home. We can do better than this. We must do better than this. We can fully embrace the values that have allowed our people to survive and thrive since time immemorial and stop this insidious exercise of blaming our neighbors. As a woman raised in AYK and now living in the Aleutians, I state this with conviction. We are all trying to survive and feed our families — to help our babies thrive. Shutting down the Area M fishery will not bring back the AYK salmon abundance of years past — but it will inflict pain and suffering on families and communities that have nothing to do with this crisis.

Lena (Aloysius) Hoblet serves as the Tribal Administrator for the Native Village of False Pass. She holds a BA in politics and government and a MA in education. She is an experienced ANCSA Corporation Board Member and community advocate. To learn more about the upcoming Board of Fisheries meeting on this topic and the advocacy effort to support the communities of the Eastern Aleutian region, go to: https://www.easternaleutiancoalition.org.

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