OPINION: Alaska Native tribes need fishery management representation

I’m Laureli Ivanoff. I am Inupiaq and Yup’ik. I am from and continue to make my home in Unalakleet, and I am the executive director of Native Peoples Action. NPA is a statewide advocacy organization — we work to protect Alaska Native hunting, fishing and harvesting rights.

The traditional harvesting culture in Alaska Native communities remains strong, vibrant and necessary, not only for our livelihood, but for the health, sense of identity, and the food sovereignty we rely upon to pass down a way of life central to who we are as Indigenous Alaskans. The rivers, the land, and the Bering Sea ecosystem are what uphold our values that are central to our identities as Alaska Natives.

The imbalance in the ecosystem and the decline in salmon throughout the Arctic, Yukon, and Kuskokwim rivers threatens our food sovereignty, our food security, and the culture that has sustained who we are through a tumultuous history from the effects of colonization. Most of us can agree that the current fisheries management structures are unwilling to address the salmon crisis and do not honor our subsistence rights, or what we Indigenous refer to as our way of life. Our pleas for meaningful bycatch avoidance in the federal Bering Sea/Gulf of Alaska trawl fishery fall on deaf ears. And it’s no wonder. A great environmental and social injustice is the fact that the federal fisheries fall under the Department of Commerce and are not managed for sustainability. So the halibut, sea lions, whales, salmon and all species incidentally caught as bycatch are not seen as species we should all respect, but are simply seen as collateral damage in the $1.3 billion fishery. Alaska Native tribes need representation on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. Not giving us a voice is continuing the dark legacy of eco-colonialism.

This reality is unjust not simply for Alaska Native communities whose economies and ways of life are centered around the health of the land and waters, but is unjust for the species that rely on balance. That rely on knowledge and a mindset missing in Western science and the current management systems. It is so very clear to me that the systems today need a paradigm shift. Relationships of respect and reciprocity with the land, waters and the species we rely upon must be incorporated in all areas of management.

But for now, I would like to highlight the fact that the State of Alaska has, at every possible turn, worked against federally protected hunting, fishing and harvesting rights. The state is once again trying to overturn the Katie John line of cases, which would erase the federal subsistence priority for rural residents. Congress needs to amend the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act to protect, once and for all, Alaska Native and rural subsistence hunting and fishing rights, and ensure our peoples’ ability to co-manage these resources.

Laureli Ivanoff, an Inupiaq and Yup’ik resident of Unalakleet, is the executive director of Native Peoples Action. This commentary is adapted from testimony at the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs field hearing and listening session regarding Arctic Yukon Kuskokwim River salmon declines held in Bethel on Friday, Nov. 10.

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Laureli Ivanoff

Laureli Ivanoff, Yup'ik and Inupiaq, is a writer and advocate in Unalakleet where, with her family, she cuts fish and makes seal oil.