Posts Tagged ‘Native Alaskans’

When I read the article entitled, “Troopers Investigate Reports of Illegal Subsistence Fishing” over at the Alaska Dispatch website, I was incredulous. Apparently, fishermen in Marshall have protested state-imposed fishing limits by catching fish outside of the two 18-hour periods per week. These limits were set by the state to protect the king salmon population, which was predicted to be low this year.

I understand the theory behind wildlife management, I do. But in these villages where a block of cheese costs over ten dollars and fresh produce is cause for celebration, fishing and hunting is survival. I lived in one of these villages for five years and I participated in several fishing and hunting excursions. I visited homes, I ate at potlucks. I’ve skinned a seal. I’ve seen how much the people who live there rely on the land. When the government tells Alaska Natives that they can’t go fishing or hunting so they can feed their family, well, just imagine the frustration and anger they must feel. So when Gary Folger, director of the Alaska Wildlife Troopers, said “If, in fact, a protest fishery occurred, I am very disappointed,” it sounds more like an adult admonishing a child for getting peanut butter on the couch than a state official referring to people who need help feeding their families. And that’s exactly what this group of people are- in need of help.

So now the District Attorney’s office has a problem. The law states that these fishermen may face fines up to $5,000, up to one year in jail and/or their equipment seized. If they are fined, the State will have a hard time collecting that money. If the fishermen had $5,000, I doubt they would be fishing when they shouldn’t be. Putting them in jail will put their families at risk, as they will be absent and not able to collect food, water and firewood for the winter. If their equipment is seized, again they will not be able to care for their families. Remember, these fishermen are most likely collecting food not only for themselves and their wives and children, but also for their elderly parents. This is common practice in the village. All of the options available to the DA’s office are undesirable, for both the fishermen and the State.

Instead of prosecuting the fishermen, the Troopers should talk with them, find out their needs, and come up with a solution together. I doubt highly that the fishermen broke the law simply to protest the limits. I’m guessing that there is a deeper resentment here that needs to be dealt with. The fishermen and the State need to work together to solve the problem so that it doesn’t happen year after year. Let’s hope the State will be sensitive to the needs of its people instead of simply prosecuting them for their actions.

Salmon sun drying in Inuit Alaskan village(b)_500x500

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