Traditional Knowledge report formally incorporated into Board of Fisheries finfish meeting in Kodiak

For the first time in Alaska Board of Fisheries history, a portion of the finfish meeting in Kodiak last week, January 9th – 12th, was dedicated to traditional knowledge. As KMXT’s Davis Hovey reports, the discussion covered a variety of topics, including equitable fishing for rural Kodiak Island residents.

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Four people testified during the first-ever traditional knowledge report at Kodiak’s Board of Fisheries recent meeting. The group helps manage and regulate the state’s fisheries.

Natasha Hayden is the Vice President of the Kodiak Island Tribal Coalition. She told the board that the Coalition, on behalf of thousands of Alutiiq and Sugpiaq people, has been advocating for more equal allocation of fishing for village residents and small boats.

“We have regularly attended Board of Fish meetings for decades, providing expert testimony based on generations of experience in fisheries,” Hayden said. “Despite our engagement we have been unsuccessful in making any positive impact for our people and communities-engaged fisheries’ management, with the loss of access through privatization, declining fish populations and a rapidly changing environment,” she stated.

Hayden then spoke for herself as a local resident of Kodiak Island whose family has been fishing in the region for generations. She said she and others want to ensure that the sustainable fishing that has existed on this island for thousands of years, continues for thousands more.

“Prior to the contact by the Russians coming here to extract fur, there were 20,000 people on Kodiak Island in the Archipelago,” she explained. “Right now, Kodiak Archipelago supports 13,000. So fully self-contained, this rock in the North Pacific can support everybody.”

Hayden says she has never submitted a proposal to the Board because she doesn’t fish commercially, and continues to fish year round to feed her family as her ancestors have done for generations. But with traditional knowledge formally incorporated into the Board of Fisheries going forward, Hayden hopes she can add more context and assist fisheries managers.

The first Traditional Knowledge report incorporated into a Board of Fisheries meeting was presented during the finfish meeting in Kodiak at new marketplace building. Photo from Davis Hovey, KMXT (2024)

Two of the other traditional knowledge speakers were a father and son from Kodiak. 52-year-old James Alpiak Sr. described his experience purse seining in Uyak Bay and how that has changed over the last 40 plus years.

“The only difference back then was there were more seiners between Larsen Bay and Whitney-Fidalgo,” Alpiak Sr. said. “It wasn’t until about the 1980s, our traditional seining spots were slowly getting picked away by gillnets. And by the 1990s, almost all of our traditional seining spots inside Uyak were pretty much gone.”

Alpiak emphasized that if the Board of Fisheries were to further restrict fishing opportunities on the southwest-west area of the island, then that would be the end of his family fishing operation. Alpiak’s son, James Jr. echoed his father’s observations, highlighting the growing conflict between set gillnetters and seiners on Kodiak Island that dominated public discussion at the meeting.

Several proposals before the Board of Fisheries [BOF] last week focused on the relationship between gillnetters and seiners, especially gear restrictions.

Before concluding the traditional knowledge portion of the finfish meeting in Kodiak, all four speakers thanked BOF managers for the opportunity to contribute and hoped their voices would add perspective.
The Board Chair thanked all of the participants and asked Hayden directly if she was advocating for a complete shift in how the Board of Fish operates.

The human-fish relationship needs to be included, is what I’m saying,” Hayden replied. “That fisheries management is not managing the fish, fisheries management is managing the people. And that us as people, we have to have a broader view of how that is done,” she explained.

The next time a traditional knowledge report will be included in a Board of Fisheries’ meeting will be in Anchorage to discuss Upper Cook Inlet finfish proposals starting in late February.

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