Marine Protected Areas

I spent several years of my career managing fisheries. I worked hard at it but honestly, I wasn’t that great. It wasn’t for lack of trying, or lack of knowing what I was talking about it was lack of being convincing to fishermen that resulted in my decisions being regularly overturned. This was a frustrating situation for everybody and I was eventually relieved of my management responsibilities. I bring this subject up not out of some masochistic need for self-flagellation but to highlight a point. Managing fisheries is hard. It is part science, part communication, part diplomacy, and honestly part magic I think. The portion of management which consists of science shrinks or expands depending upon the nature of the fishery. At any rate, it often leads to over fishing.
Another really difficult part of fisheries management is preventing the gear involved from damaging the habitat. This is particularly problematic for fisheries on hard bottoms or in areas with sensitive, long-lived, habitat-creating species like corals and sponges. Surprisingly, these species are not just in tropical areas, but are quite common in Southeast Alaska, and other areas of the State as well. When fisheries are young, and effort is low it is easy for fishermen to avoid these sensitive areas. Invariably, however, the dance of intensification begins with the implementation of limited entry creating a wave of increased vessels entering the fishery resulting in managers shortening seasons to limit catch and fishermen fishing harder with more gear. Eventually it becomes next to impossible to avoid sensitive habitat.
Since my time at Glacier Bay I have been interested in the role of Marine Protected Areas (but fully protected, not just protected from commercial fishing) in providing for sustainable fisheries. Correctly designed, these protected areas can act as ‘insurance policies’ for fisheries in several ways. First, they preserve the intact ecosystem for study, so biologists can continue to improve their understanding of the species. Without such areas it is hard to say if observed changes in a species (such as declining size in king salmon and sablefish) are a result of the fishery, or the environment, making design of an appropriate response difficult. Second, they act as nurseries, exporting larvae and adults to adjacent areas. In New Zealand and the Canary Islands marine protected areas which were initially fought tooth and nail are providing such benefits that they are now advocated for by both commercial and recreational fishermen. Third, marine protected areas protect habitat too vulnerable to be exploited without destruction. Fourth, they prevent the ‘sliding baseline’ syndrome wherein each new generation of biologists and fishermen become accustomed to and accept a new lower level of ecosystem productivity. Finally, Alaska is currently reeling from global climate change effects which are predicted to hit high latitude areas harder than elsewhere in the world. Alaska’s fisheries developed later than the lower 48 and we have been able to implement policy to avoid many mistakes, making us a leader in sustainable fisheries in the nation and worldwide. Let’s continue that leadership by establishing a network of small, highly targeted marine protected areas throughout State and Federal waters of Alaska!

Wild Food

I’ve thought a lot lately about what I eat and how it is produced. Because I have the luxury of living in Alaska, where wild foods are abundant and accessible on our extensive public lands, I hunt deer, fish for salmon; char; and halibut, dig clams, pick berries, gather seaweed and wild greens, and hunt for mushrooms. I hunt, fish, and gather for many reasons.
I love hunting. Moving quietly through the woods hunting deer or mushrooms brings me more into the present moment than any yoga or meditation class I’ve ever attended and instills a deep appreciation for and understanding of habitat. I do not enjoy killing, but I’d rather kill and eat a deer that has had a good life in the wild than buy the meat of an animal that has spent its life in captive misery.
It matters to me that the animals I eat have experienced joy. The taste of animal-joy is in smooth, strong, lean muscles and thick layers of clean fat, in the delicate texture and flavors of carefully cooked organ meat, in the fat that congeals on the roof of your mouth after eating ribs. It is in the flick of a deer tail as it darts quickly away through a screen of blueberry bushes, or the insolent look of a marten trying to steal your kill, in the gaze of a wild wolf or bear, stumbled upon in excessively close quarters.
Eating wild also saves money and makes me more self-sufficient and less reliant upon the grocery store. There is a confidence to being able to produce your own food that I treasure. It makes me less tied to employment and allows me a more independent viewpoint.
Alaskan wild food is the cleanest and most nutritious food available. We have very little agriculture or manufacturing in Alaska, so our wild foods are relatively untainted by pesticides, fertilizers, or air pollution. Wild foods are naturally organic, being pesticide and hormone-free; they are also non-GMO, and free range. Wild salmon has less saturated fat and PCBs than farmed salmon and wild blueberries and cranberries are higher in antioxidants by nearly an order of magnitude than domesticated varieties. Eating venison can lower LDL (bad cholesterol) and increase HDL (good cholesterol) levels.
Hunting and gathering of wild foods doesn’t utilize fertilizers, or require unnaturally high-density aggregations of animals, so pollution is limited to the footprint of the hunter-gatherer.
When I can’t hunt or gather my own wild foods I buy them, preferably from local fishermen or the grocery store. This supports my local economy, promotes community, and creates advocates for wild rivers and oceans. Wild takes must be well-managed to avoid overharvest, habitat damage, and excessive use of fossil fuels. As a hunter-gatherer and consumer of commercially harvested wild food, I pay attention to issues around sustainability and contribute to non-profit organizations that are engaged with influencing government policy around commercial and personal harvest.
Advocates for wild lands staying wild are increasingly important in our world where every scrap of land and water is employed for the benefit of humanity. In addition to food, wild lands provide many benefits to humanity that are insufficiently understood and valued. If a river is not incubating salmon eggs, there is less reason to worry about mines spewing waste into it, transporting ore on it, it’s being dammed to produce hydroelectric power, or being diverted for agricultural, industrial, or urban purposes. Alaska’s wild rivers are the arteries and veins of our wild lands, providing homes and thoroughfares for moose, wolves, bears, wolverines, and lynx—among others. Chanterelle mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of fungal mats associated with evergreen trees which are found exclusively in old-growth forests. In addition to producing tasty mushrooms for humans and other foragers, these fungal mats have recently been found to produce antiviral compounds that help bees stay healthy.
The extensive access to wild foods that Alaskans enjoy is undeniably unique. Nonetheless, wild foods are gathered in many areas of the world. Norwegians pick lingonberries, Finns are passionate mushroom hunters, and Oregonians gather copious hazelnuts. The cultural benefits of hunter-gathering may even outweigh their nutritional value. Sustaining these resources into the future will require a multi-faceted approach: advocacy for maintaining and expanding wild lands and harvests, shifting back to a more intensive small-scale agriculture and transitioning to a more plant-based diet.