Monday, June 6, 2011

Maintaining A Space

Linda Behnken fishes on the F/V Woodstock out of Sitka, Alaska with her husband and two children. They longline for halibut and black cod and troll for salmon. Linda first moved to Sitka in 1982 and immediately fell in love with the environment. For the past two decades, she has been an advocate for the environment and the small boat fishing community of Southeast Alaska. Photo credits to Mim McConnell.

“What I worry about the most is ecosystem impacts and second most, maintaining a place for small, independent, community-based fishermen in the face of corporate political power, money. That’s countrywide, of course. It’s the same struggle for the family farmer and the family fisherman and the bookstore on the corner. Alaska has probably done well to hold a place for small boats, but I feel anxious about the future in that way. I’ve been talking to a lot of people who go back generations of fishing up here. There has always been that fear that there won’t be a future in fisheries. I feel concern about whether my kids wanted to choose this way of life it would still be a viable option at a level and a price they could afford.

“We’ve had a lot of successes I would have to say. We got this area closed to trawling. That would be my most satisfying fisheries policy win and the one that I think is the most significant in terms of the resource. We did put together a quota share program that goes a long way through the construction of it to control consolidation and protect and hold a place for small boats and community participation. It’s not perfect but it’s a lot better than any other one I’ve seen.

“We started this community supported fisheries program in Sitka last year. It’s like community supported agriculture where people sign up for a subscription of fish and we’re buying it from boats that are participating in the conservation work of our organization and trying to return a little extra to the fishermen, but with some very strong goals of outreach, education and connecting the consumer more with the person who catches their fish. We’re doubling our subscriptions this year and we’re going to start offering a small CSF in Juneau. Black cod, halibut, rockfish, ling cod, coho and king salmon. We’re having it processed by local processors. We let them know we have a boat coming in that is black cod and halibut and we want to buy 1,000 pounds of it and here is how we want it put up. We put up our longline product in late April or early May and then the salmon in the summer. People get a mix.

“Our association, the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, works with the North Pacific Fisheries Trust to come up with this concept of the Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust. The concept of this trust is to be the umbrella organization for fishing groups to launch fishery conservation networks where you’re promoting stewardship innovation and fishermen and then achieve triple bottom line goals of protecting resources and the socio-economic health of the communities, but also being able to fund that work on a sustainable basis by marketing the fish. Right now, it’s just paying its own way, but hopefully being able to use the revenue from that to support expanding our conservation work. We’re going slowly and carefully, so it’s still quite small, but it’s been really well received. I’m really excited about that.”

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