The law that oversees Alaska’s offshore fisheries, the Magnuson-Stevens Act is up for reauthorization this year. As chair of the Oceans Subcommittee, Senator Begich is pushing the bill through. He told working group members along the entire river that recognizing subsistence fishing will be part of the bill.
“When you put the users together there’s only one that survives on the food in the sense that when you open the door, your grocery store is not in a building, it’s in the water,” said Begich.
Exactly how subsistence fits in is up for debate. The Association of Village Council Presidents, or AVCP has been advocating for getting a seat for a tribal representative on the council that manages allocations and deals with bycatch.
Working group member Barbara Carlson said that the local impacts of what happens in the oceans doesn’t always get counted.
“We feel get we lost in the big numbers of fish the commercial takes in, but if you look at numbers of people and children and families that are affected when we’re not able to get the subsistence fish we need, it is a huge impact on our rural region,” said Carlson.
Begich noted that the bill could bring in more science, and include more traditional knowledge about struggling fish stocks as well as look at the economic impact of subsistence in Alaska.
Working Group members and Kuskokwim residents told Begich that they want to see trawl boats reduce their bycatch of Chinook salmon. Co-Chair Bev Hoffman:
“And so it is serious, I think everyone here wants to see more sacrifice out there. We’re not allowed to fish, so that’s a big concern,” said Hoffman.
Begich highlighted his role in pushing through four international treaties that address what he calls pirate fishing in international waters.
“These people are thieves, they are taking our product and they’re not doing any justice for us here. Those treaties we passed by unanimous consent in the Senate, that’s good news. That gives us more tools, more international tools, and gives us a capacity to go after these people,” said Begich.
Begich says his team is working to put together another draft of the Magnuson Stevens Act in the coming weeks.