Gustavus vibrant, not distressed

Posted: Tuesday, July 23, 2002

An article in Sunday's Empire about how local communities plan to spend compensation moneys from the commercial fishing phaseout in Glacier Bay National Park implies profound demographic changes for Gustavus as a result of the congressionally mandated phaseout.

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Foremost, the article cites school enrollment - down from a high of 82 students to half that number now - as an indicator of the impacts of the phaseout on local families.

While it is true that our enrollment is down by over half, in fact the downturn has everything to do with out-migration of families with children and older students seeking more diverse educational opportunities, as well as a growing trend toward home schooling. It has little or nothing to do with the commercial fishing phaseout.

Most of the fishermen who could demonstrate a reliance on the bay's fisheries continue to fish there, and their children continue to attend our school. Although the two processors have been forced to close, they also continue to reside here and send their school-age children to our school. Of the five Gustavus dungeness crab fishermen who were compensated for not being able to fish in the bay, three chose to move elsewhere, taking one child of school age with them.

While we in Gustavus continue to work through this challenge, we will best be served by identifying the real issues and dealing with them, rather than trying to heap all of our problems on one cause. Gustavus is a healthy, vibrant, ever-changing community with several admittedly difficult issues to work through, but it is not the distressed place portrayed in the Empire article.

Wayne Howell


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