New Native commission vocal on natural resources

Posted: Friday, May 10, 2002

The Southeast Alaska Inter-Tribal Fish and Wildlife Commission has been a voice for largely Native communities that will be affected by layoffs in the pink salmon fishery.

Although it doesn't look like the state will allow Russian processors into Alaska waters to buy from those fishermen, the commission has claimed some success since it was formed late last year to provide a more formal way for tribes to address natural-resource issues.

"We wanted to address not only subsistence concerns but also commercial fishing concerns," said Gordon Jackson, a commission staff member who is business and economic development manager for the Tlingit-Haida Central Council.

"The fishing industry as a whole has always been our safety net economically in the villages, communities we're losing," Jackson said, citing a big drop in the number of state limited-entry permits held by villagers, and the closing of processing plants.

Eleven Southeast tribes and the Central Council have joined the commission and will appoint its members. The group, which is financed by federal funds, hopes to employ a biologist and an attorney.

The commission has worked with the Sitka Tribe to resolve a dispute between subsistence users of herring roe and commercial fishermen, said commissioner Bob Loescher, the former Sealaska CEO. The state Board of Fisheries required commercial fishery managers to disperse the commercial fleets.

And commissioners Harold Martin and Matt Kookesh were instrumental in getting a federal fishery management panel to recognize a subsistence halibut fishery.

"It just shows that if we work together in the region, among the tribal groups in the coastal communities, we can accomplish a lot in these governmental forums," Loescher said.

There had been a poorly funded volunteer subsistence commission among Southeast Natives, Loescher said. "As time went on we found that we needed more technical and legal support and political focus, and we weren't getting that with a volunteer organization."

Eric Fry can be reached at efry@juneauempire.com.



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