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Rally against bycatch laws, for Bering Sea canyon protection reaches Juneau

Posted: June 12, 2013 - 5:03pm  |  Updated: June 13, 2013 - 12:30am
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George Pletnikoff, right, of Greenpeace and the Alaska Intertribal Council, and Art Ivanoff hold signs during a rally and march at Marine Park on Wednesday to protest overfishing of the seas and subsistence rights.  Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
George Pletnikoff, right, of Greenpeace and the Alaska Intertribal Council, and Art Ivanoff hold signs during a rally and march at Marine Park on Wednesday to protest overfishing of the seas and subsistence rights.

Two dozen tribal representatives gathered at Marine Park on Wednesday morning to rally against current Chinook salmon bycatch laws throughout the state.

About 30 representatives from the Inter-Tribal Council, the Association of Village Council Presidents and the Alaska Native Brotherhood joined together the same week as joint federal and state authorities of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council met to discuss similar issues.

“We wanted to gain some attention to both those bodies, primarily to bycatch of Chinook King Salmon,” George Pletnikoff of Greenpeace and the Alaska Inter-Tribal Council said as the rally gained more public attention on Wednesday.

What advocates considered a win on Monday regarding conservation efforts at the Bering Sea and its canyons and increased restrictions on fishery bycatch laws, the council decided to limit the number of Chinook salmon unintentionally taken to 7,500.

The council also considered a conservation plan for the ecosystems affected by commercial fishing.

“We’re trying to gain traction with the council to further some management to protect these canyons from trawling,” Pletnikoff said. “We’re very happy the council added that motion. It’s a big step in the right direction.”

Those who were opposed to the restrictions came out with two-faced testimonies over the weekend where some argued that the canyons were nothing special and that other preserved areas in the region remained largely unaffected. But they believed in the value of the preservation, regardless.

Representatives of NOAA Fisheries did not respond to calls for comment as of press time.

The win for conservationists was a small one, but a hopeful look forward, Pletnikoff said.

“Some things move like molasses,” Pletnikoff said. “At least we are beginning. We’re moving in the right direction.”

That didn’t stop the rallying that took the small group down Front Street. Tourists and onlookers were present as the flood of signs that read “Zero Bycatch,” “The New Goal” and “Idle No More” marched passed cruise ships and through downtown.

Idle No More is a Canadian-born movement that reached the state earlier this year. It represents the indigenous people who’ve been affected by legislative measures to curb the commercial fishing industries and other issues facing local tribes.

“Save our salmon,” said John Smith III, a cultural specialist at Thunder Mountain High School, dressed in a wolf headdress and regalia while leading the march. “We need to be better stewards to our earth.”

Worries over the dwindling supply of salmon to the Alaska Natives who rely on them for subsistence and the ecosystems that help them thrive was the main message of the rally.

“All five species of salmon live out there,” Timothy Andrews of the Association of Village Council Presidents said. “We’re concerned about the removal of fish in the Bering Sea.”

The protestors made their way to Centennial Hall where continued testimony on bycatch and the Bering Sea took place inside.

“It’s not just our problem,” they chanted. “It’s everyone’s.”

Contact reporter Kenneth Rosen at 523-2250 or at kenneth.rosen@juneauempire.com.

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