Greenpeace spearheads Yup’ik Qantaq ecosystem protections

by Sophie Evan on June 12, 2013

photo by Greenpeace

photo by Greenpeace

The Yup’ik people have long revered the Bering Sea, calling it “Qantaq” simply translated a “soup bowl” meaning the Bering Sea is full of food. There are many Yup’ik laws that are directed at keeping the Bering Sea physically and spiritually clean, in order to continue the circle of life. Now, the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council has stepped up to help establish Federal protections for the Bering Sea ecosystem, or as the Yup’ik call it, Qantaq.

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Greenpeace Ocean’s Campaign Director John Hocevar says it took them ten years of lobbying the N-P-F-M-C to consider protecting the Bering Sea ecosystem. The North Pacific Council has decided to identify key coral areas and consider measures to protect them. The Bering Sea Canyons are said to contain large amounts of sponge and coral habitat, which sustain an important ecosystem.

“these are the largest underwater canyons in the world, Zhemchug which is the biggest is larger than the grand canyon, almost two miles deep,” says Hocevar.

The Greenpeace team is the first to document the Bering Sea Canyons ecosystem, taking dives in a one-man submarine.

“I think we really do need some areas to set aside, to give the ocean a chance to recover, I think this can be really helpful in feeding and rebuilding the surrounding waters as well,” says Hocevar.

The canyons support a rich marine environment, which produce more seafood than any other fishery in the United States. The Alaskan Pollock fishery in the Bering Sea is a billion dollar a year industry, the most lucrative in America. The local C-D-Q group, Coastal Villages Region fund, reported $115-point-four million dollars in revenue for 2012.

“residents at Coastal care deeply about the health of the Bering Sea and they will always support research,” said CVRF Communications Director, Dawson Hoover.

It is uncertain how the fishing industry might be affected by these canyon protections, or if they will. A scoping process will be seeking input from the various Bering Sea user groups. But Hocevar has been pleased with how the fishing industry has responded.

“the industry was even willing to stand up and say yes, we recognize the importance of the coral areas, and everyone was willing to move to support the idea of moving forward to develop protections for them,” said Hocevar.

Greenpeace says their bottom line is a green and peaceful future. ###

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