by John Hocevar
July 9, 2007
I’m at my desk in Austin, Texas, enjoying the updates from the crew on board the Esperanza and getting ready to join the ship later this month. I was talking to a reporter about the Bering Sea today, and he mentioned that he was planning to speak to a representative of the factory trawlers tomorrow. What did I think the trawl lobbiest would tell him, and how different would it be from what I was saying? It’s a funny question, as he’s likely to end up feeling like there must be two Alaskas.
In the Alaska described by the factory trawlers, the ecosystem is healthy, and the economy is booming. There is no overfishing going on. The precautionary principle rules the day.
And then there is the Alaska that the crew is seeing with their own eyes and hearing from people in native communities. This Alaska looks a little different – not so far gone that it can’t be saved, but far from healthy. The "economy" may well be booming, but many of the small-scale fishing communities scattered along Alaska’s islands and coasts are really struggling. And overfishing seems to be a matter of definitions. The computer models may not describe what is going on as overfishing, but then they don’t really account for the seabirds, sea lions, fur seals, and fish that are disappearing rapidly as there food is being turned into Mc Fish Filets and fish sticks.
Even some conservationists consider Alaska a model of good fisheries management, but the sad part is that this says more about how bad things are elsewhere than about how good they are in Alaska. There are some things that are going well, and there are things that policy makers in Alaska should be proud of. But we have a long way to go before anyone should start clapping themselves on the back and hyping Alaska fisheries management as a model.
For a more detailed rebuttal of the "Alaska Model," see this article in Alaska Business Monthly. It’s not too late to save our oceans – and commercial fisheries along with them – but first we’re going to have to be honest with ourselves about what’s actually happening, and what it will take to turn things around.