Noah Sunflower at the Bristol Bay Fish Expo gathering signatures for a Magnuson-Stevens Act sign-on letter, including one from former Senator Mark Begich.
Last Friday at 6:00 a.m. I set up a folding table and covered it in stickers, flyers, and smoked salmon and cream cheese bagels because it was “Anchorage Bike to Work Day.” By 6:30 a.m., I was explaining the latest iterations of the Magnuson-Stevens Act reauthorization bills to two windbreaker- and khaki-wearing bikers:
“The seafood industry contributes $5.2 billion dollars to the Alaskan economy annually. Nationally, the Alaskan seafood industry created an estimated 99,000 jobs. Seafood is Alaska’s number one export and brings $3 billion new dollars to the Alaskan economy. H.R. 200 makes radical changes to the management of federal fisheries and could endanger the industry.”
Friday morning’s event is just one in a seemingly endless series of outreach events that I have attended, including SlowFish, Homer Winter King Tournament, Sitka Young Fishermen’s Expo, Pacific Marine Expo, Kodiak Comfish, and Anchorage Forever Fish Fair. Through this work, I have realized just how little the average person knows about how we regulate our oceans. EBFM, ACLs and NPFMC are not acronyms in the lexicon of anyone who is not privileged enough to be able to work on these issues every day.
Nonetheless, I have also recognized that, despite not knowing what an ACL is, the average Alaskan cares deeply about fish and conserving our marine resources for future generations. And what makes Alaskans so great, is that each person I talk to has a different relationship to the ocean and therefore different motivations for supporting science-based fisheries management.
For example, a woman I met at the Forever Fish Fair in Anchorage, with one baby in a backpack and a toddler in a stroller, wanted to know if the MSA had anything to do with food security in Anchorage. I answered, “Yes, our food security and the Anchorage economy as a whole depend on abundant fish populations!” She agreed to sign the letter supporting science-based fisheries management (her two kids were happy to receive “Healthy Oceans, Healthy Communities” stickers as well).
A commercial fishermen at Pacific Marine Expo asked me pointedly, “Does Dave Kubiak agree with you on this? I only do what Dave Kubiak says I should do with this management stuff.” He signed the petition after he found Dave, who is a life-long Alaska fisherman and fisheries advocate, at Expo and talked to him.
An elderly woman at an event we held at 49th State Brewery signed because she knew Senator Ted Stevens personally and believed in his legacy of supporting the Alaskan fishermen by promoting science-based fisheries management. She said, in no uncertain terms, “Ted set up a system that makes our fisheries the best managed in the world. Lets keep them that way.”
While all Alaskans may not be intimately familiar with the specific jargon or the ins and outs of fisheries management, they all share a meaningful connection with the resource and understand the value of sustainable, science-based management. Because of that, my job as an organizer tasked with building support for the core provisions of the MSA is easy. Once I provide some background on why MSA is important, the response is often, “well, that’s just common sense. Of course we should manage based on science and sustainability.”