Best Available Science

by George Pletnikoff

August 10, 2008

One of the most used comments bantered in the halls of the hotels where the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) holds their meetings where many of the decisions are already decided with the big, wild, commercial fishing industry with the public is “best available science.” The NPFMC usually holds their meetings at the Hilton hotel in Anchorage four times a year. And, although no one says it, the process is a “good ol boys” conference. My brother is fond of telling me; the industry writes the regulations. But, even though the cards are stacked up against me and others who have concerns and try to offer alternatives toward habitat protections, I attend. Its part of my responsibility. I often feel like my attendance is futile and a waste of time. Anyway, “best available science.”

The use of that term as an acceptable tool to manage our fisheries seems to me is like saying: “best available truth.” Remember the most famous question ever asked in all of humanity? “What is truth?” And so I wonder, what is “best available science. What does that mean and how does that help our people in the villages?”

Well, NPFMC, Mr. Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez of the U.S. Department of Commerce, we have a problem. What does your “best available science” or “best available truth” tell you about our out of control salmon by catch problems in Western Alaska? The problem is this. Really huge, large, big industrialized fishing machines, called boats, use huge, large, big nets and go out into the waters of southern Bering Sea, just north of the Alaska Peninsula to fish for 3.2 billion pounds of pollock, the total allowable catch from both the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea. And as they vacuum up these fish, a very important food source of the foods we depend upon for our survival, they “accidentally catch”  hundreds of thousands, and millions of salmon during the past 30 years, in their pursuit of happiness. This is by catch. In 2004, they caught, as far as we know, 63,000 king salmon. In 2005, 75,000 kings. Chum salmon took a huge hit. In 2004, 447,000 chums, and in 2005, 700,000 chums. That’s according to their best available truth. If I remember correctly, in 2007, they said they caught 117,000 king salmon while in pursuit of happiness, their happiness. Never mind our people’s food security in our villages that depend on these fish for survival. The song and dance is getting old. Outside multinational fishing companies, meeting with the federal government in a hotel somewhere destroying our home. Destroying our dreams. Destroying our children. And saying, well, sorry. It’s legal. It may be, but it is immoral.

A really good friend of mine once told me: “our commercial fishing season for king salmon on the Kuskokwim River lasted for 60 minutes, all year!” And he has a family, Children. And he cannot do anything, anything about it, because like you and me, he is poor. He cannot afford to attend one of them meetings in a hotel somewhere to testify for three minutes about his concerns, nor, like you and me, he cannot afford a lawyer or a lobbyist. And so, he hears “best available science” spoken from reputable scientists and NPFMC members. And to further add salt to the wound, the Council will say, we are only an advisory council. Mr. Gutierrez makes the final decision. Know what? Uncle Ted in his wisdom thru the Magnuson Stevens Act set it up like this.

Well, the NPFMC says they have a solution to deal with this salmon by catch, stolen fish problem. Here it is, in brief. Lets not force our good buddies who go out to the Bering Sea to fish for a share of the 3.2 billion pounds of pollock they catch every year to suffer to much. After all, they are our buds. Lets let them continue stealing food from the people on the Kuskokwim River, but, really, not too much. Lets put a cap on how much they can take out of the mouths of our children. Now, really. And further, lets let one of the biggest fishing companies who participate in this immoral practice, Trident Seafoods, give that fish to Bean’s Café to feed the hungry. Peter stealing from Paul to feed people? And now, others are caught up in their circle of destruction, being used to make themselves feel better about what they are doing and getting a huge tax write off to boot. See how this “best available science” and “best available truth” works? And so the question: “what is truth?”

The only real solution to this problem is stop it. Stop the insane practice of by catch. Stop raiding our people’s food. Stop. And use your “best available science” to figure out how not to do it any more. After all, you use that statement to justify what you do. And, in many cases, you give the scientists who use that statement, grants to provide research to justify that behavior. We the people in Western Alaska have had enough of supporting your pursuit of happiness. We need to pursue ours and that of our children. Please, level the playing field. Your quarterbacks are just too “best available.” You can afford it. We cannot even afford to feed our children.

George Pletnikoff is Unangan from the Pribilof Islands. He now works for Greenpeace as the Alaska Oceans Campaigner in Anchorage. He can be reached at george.pletnikoff@greenpeace.org

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