Fishermen are the ears and eyes of the marine ecosystem as a changing climate throws our oceans off kilter.
Now a new phone app is making sure their real-life, real-time observations are included in scientific data. The new Skipper Science smartphone app, released on June 18, comes from the Aleut Community of St. Paul Island in the Bering Sea as a way “to elevate the thousands of informal-yet-meaningful environmental observations by fishermen and others into hard numbers for Alaska’s science-based management,” said Lauren Divine, director of Ecosystem Conservation for St. Paul’s tribal government whose team created and owns the dataset for the app.
“How do we take what has historically been called anecdotal and create some structure around it that is rigorous and has scientific repeatability?” Divine said to KCAW in Sitka.
“There is a vast body of deep knowledge that fishermen hold from their experience on the water, indigenous and non-indigenous alike, that they use for decision making and risk evaluation and to execute a likelihood on the water. And we have very much underutilized that knowledge for years, especially here in the North Pacific,” she added in a phone interview.
The free app, which works on or off the internet, is an offshoot of an Indigenous Sentinels Network started 16 years ago at St. Paul Island to monitor wildlife and the environment in the Bering Sea.
To broaden its reach, St. Paul partnered with advocacy group SalmonState’s Salmon Habitat Information Program (SHIP). Through its surveys and other outreach SHIP quantifies what’s regarded by scientists as fishermen’s “informal observations” and shares the information with managers and decision makers.
Troller Eric Jordan of Sitka, who has been out on the Southeast waters for 71 years, agrees the grounds truth should be in the data base.
“We have perspectives that go back decades as persons that are dependent on reading correctly what’s going on. We are tuned in to the utmost degree. We know which bird is feeding on what fish, the water temperature, the depth, the bottom structure, all those things,” he said about the SkipperScience community. “And we’re trying to project into the future quicker than almost anybody else. We know stuff that is helpful to everybody as they’re trying to understand the changes, because we’re not just there to understand, we’re there to adapt.”
The call is out for nominees to fill one open seat on the state Board of Fisheries.
The opening stems from the Alaska Legislature on May 13 giving a thumbs down to Governor Dunleavy’s appointment of Abe Williams, a regional affairs director for the Pebble Mine. Nearly 1,000 Alaskans spoke out against Williams’ appointment.
According to Alaska statutes, Dunleavy was required to name a replacement within 30 days.
“The Governor is taking additional time to receive input from all stakeholders before making a selection,” Jeff Turner, deputy director of communications, said in an email, adding that “he has committed to filling the seat before the next Board of Fish meeting in October.”
United Fishermen of Alaska said that Governor Dunleavy “is open to considering applicants from all across Alaska.”
By March 2021, the BOF was scheduled to have finished up 275 proposals for Southeast Alaska, Prince William Sound and statewide shellfish fisheries. But the normal meeting cycle was disrupted by the COVID pandemic.
Starting in October of 2021 it will hold a two-day work session followed by meetings for those other regional fisheries in November through March of next year.
Then in October 2022, the BOF will turn its attention to Bristol Bay and Chignik, the Bering Sea, Arctic-Yukon- Kuskokwim and Alaska Peninsula regions.
“The Governor’s nominee will serve on the board in the interim until the legislature, in joint session, makes a decision,” said Board director Glenn Haight.
The BOF regulates commercial, sport, subsistence and personal use fisheries in Alaska state waters, meaning out to three miles.
Currently, only one of the seven board seats is held by a person from a coastal region – John Jensen of Petersburg.
Alaska seafood love
A new national survey revealed that 26% of U.S. consumers said they purchased seafood for the first time during the COVID pandemic, nearly half plan to increase their intake and nearly 74% plan to continue cooking seafood at home.
Seafood saw unprecedented growth in grocery sales at nearly 30 % at the height of the pandemic, far exceeding all other food categories.
The top reasons? It’s healthier than red meat and people said they prefer the taste.
Topping the seafood list of favorites was salmon and by a five to one margin, responders said they prefer wild over farmed. Having less harmful additives was a top reason they prefer wild-caught seafood.
Over 60% said they want to know where their seafood comes from and that it is sustainably sourced.
Over 70 percent of 1,000 responders said they are more likely to buy seafood when they see the Alaska logo, and they are willing to pay more for it.
That holds true in Japan where another ASMI survey of 1,000 seafood eaters showed that nearly 80% said they were more inclined to buy products bearing the Alaska brand. The responders said their favorite things about Alaska seafood were (translated from Japanese) wild deliciousness (63%), great nature (49%), clean ocean (45%) and freshly frozen (44%).
“We had to adjust our strategy and tactics in all of our markets which were hit hard by the pandemic and required new data to guide our efforts,” said Hannah Lindoff, ASMI Senior Director of Global Marketing and Strategy.
Fish gets gutted
Meanwhile, in the ongoing state budget battle, Governor Dunleavy vetoed $3 million in federal CARES funding for ASMI that he gushed over on June 25.
“Alaska’s seafood industry is a strong pillar of our economy and my administration is committed to supporting ASMI’s urgent and substantial need following unplanned industry-wide COVID-19 costs,” Dunleavy said on his website.
“No one does seafood like the Last Frontier with its world-class stocks of fresh, nutritious, and wild protein. Our fleets have weathered the storm of COVID, now it’s time to keep delivering a piece of Alaska on a dish around the globe,” the governor added.
ASMI is a partnership between the state and the Alaskan seafood industry and is funded by a tax on processors and some federal dollars. It receives no state funding.
The $3 million was part of a $50 million Alaska portion for seafood-related relief in the $2.2 trillion CARES Act passed in March 2020 by Congress.