Watch: How the Pribilof Islands’ Tragic History May Shape a Marine Sanctuary

Marissa Merculieff talks about the proposed Heart of the Ocean Marine Sanctuary

On August 24, 2022, Waterside Chat host Tom Sadler was joined by Marissa Merculieff, director of the Office of Justice and Governance Administration for the Aleut Community of Saint Paul Island, and Lauren Divine, director of the Ecosystem Conservation Office for the Tribal Government of Saint Paul Island. Saint Paul is the largest of the Pribilof Islands in the Bering Sea off Alaska. The ancestors of Aleut people living on the islands were sent there by the Russian Empire as slaves to harvest fur seals, and their forced labor continued after the U.S. took control of the islands.

Tom and his guests talked about Alaĝum Kanuux (Heart of the Ocean) and the potential for this marine sanctuary in the waters around the islands, including a historic co-management agreement between the Aleut Community of St. Paul Island and the federal government to establish co-equal governance and decision making for the sanctuary. Among many other topics, they discussed:

  • The importance of the local community’s voice driving in the sanctuary nomination
  • How the Aleut people’s history of forced migration, slavery and forced labor on the Pribilof Islands have shaped their approach to Alaĝum Kanuux’s proposal to co-manage the sanctuary with the federal government
  • The powerful relationship local residents have with the region’s fur seals, whose numbers are unfortunately declining
  • Local plans to rebuild the fur seal population
  • The islands’ boat-building heritage
  • The importance of fishing to the islands, including the local long-line, small-boat commercial halibut fishing fleet
  • How bycatch can shut down a whole fishery
  • The economic and conservation implications of the resources and prominence that come with a sanctuary designation
  • Plans to expand tourism around the islands, including whale-watching and birding.

For more on the islands’ history, Tom’s guests recommended “Slaves of the Harvest” (book, unfortunately out of print) and “People of the Seal” (YouTube video).

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