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Economics & Social Sciences Research Program

Improving Community Profiles for the North Pacific Fisheries: Hosting Conversations with Alaskan Fishing Communities

Incorporating community voices into the decision-making processes for fisheries is difficult. This is especially true in Alaska, which contains difficult terrain that makes travel around the state difficult and expensive. Subsistence fishing and hunting are common place, as is involvement in commercial fishing, and these activities often take precedence over attending fisheries management meetings. Although state and federal fisheries managers are required to obtain public input on fishing regulations, difficulties in participation may lead Alaskan communities to feel disenfranchised and removed from the decision-making process that ultimately affects their participation in commercial, sport, or subsistence fishing.

In order to provide baseline information about a large number of Alaskan fishing communities to fisheries managers, the Economics and Social Science Research (ESSR) Program compiled existing information about and published community profiles for 136 Alaskan fishing communities in 2005. These community profiles have been widely used as the basis for fisheries management plans, social and economic impact assessments of proposed fishing regulations, and numerous discussions by natural resource agencies. However, it has become clear that the community profiles are lacking adequate information about those communities' dependence on fishing that would be integral in determining the social and economic impacts of fishing regulations on local communities.

In order to rectify this information gap, ESSR Program staff began the process of revising the community profiles by hosting conversations with community leaders and representatives around the state to engage them in how to revise the community profiles so that they better represent their involvement in fishing. This effort represents a paradigm shift in how communities are engaged in fisheries management in Alaska by bringing them into the information gathering process that indirectly informs policymakers. The basic assumption of this approach is that communities are best equipped to describe their relationship to fisheries; so to ensure that the new profiles reflect this knowledge, AFSC must be engaged with community representatives to ensure that local knowledge about the communities is incorporated.

Meetings were hosted during August and September 2010 in six Alaskan regional hubs with more than 100 community representatives ranging from tribal elders to community mayors to regional tribal consortiums. The meetings involved a group dialogue that provided an opportunity for ESSR social scientists and Alaska community representatives to come together and discuss how to make these community profiles more informative and representative of Alaska communities.

The discussion focused on an exchange of local stories and knowledge that best illustrate the way in which fishing shapes the fabric of Alaskan communities; information that fishery managers need to know about Alaska communities that is not currently represented in the community profiles; and discovering how to work with communities to best gather this new information for each community. Throughout the meeting process, relationships and ties were built with community members, and it became evident that community input into this source of baseline information about Alaskan fishing communities is a crucial step forward in improving the involvement of communities in the fishery management process and getting their voices heard.

By Amber Himes-Cornell, Christina Package, Jennifer Sepez, and Allison Durland

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