Residents of the fisheries dependent Aleutian Islands borough are challenging environmental and economic benefits posed by environmental groups seeking creation of a national marine sanctuary in the Aleutian Islands
The Aleutians East Borough Assembly on Jan. 8 voiced unanimous opposition to creation of the Aleutian Islands National Marine Sanctuary, as proposed by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. The nomination was submitted to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in late December.
The borough assembly said that the NOAA national sanctuary nomination process clearly states that every nomination starts at the community level. The borough government is not aware of any local support from local regional communities, tribes or local groups for this nomination, the assembly said.
The state of Alaska has not yet commented on the proposed marine sanctuary, but Acting Alaska Commissioner of Fish and Game Sam Cotten said Jan. 13 that it was unlikely that the state would support it. “We’d be concerned that there would be serious negative impacts on the fishing industry and some of the area reopened to fishing might be at risk,” he said.
PEER proposed 10 goals for the proposed sanctuary, including permanent prohibition of offshore oil, gas and mineral leasing and regulation of transit merchant shipping to reduce the risk of oil spills and whale-ship strikes.
PEER’s nomination cites the Aleutian Islands marine ecosystem as one of the most biologically productive in the world ocean, supporting the largest populations of marine mammals, seabirds, fish and shellfish in the nation, and one of the largest anywhere in the world.
PEER’s proposal was made on behalf of PEER’s Alaska members, including marine conservation consultant Rick Steiner, a retired University of Alaska professor of marine conservation. The nomination is also endorsed by the Center for Biological Diversity, Anchorage; the Eyak Preservation Council, Cordova, AK; the Center for Water Advocacy in Homer, AK; North Gulf Oceanic Society, Homer, AK; The Ocean Foundation, Washington D.C.; and Marine Endeavors, a seabird conservation consulting firm in Oakland, CA.
The AEB resolution voiced concern on how such prohibitions would affect the borough economy, saying that “the potential designation would make all current restrictions to fishing and other commerce permanent and would authorize further onerous permanent restrictions. The borough and other tribes in the area are concerned this could cause economic harm to communities within this area, which are mostly dependent on commercial fishing.”
The borough resolution said that protections from overfishing, increased shipping and risks associated with oil and gas development are unnecessary because those safeguards are already in place from federal and state agencies.
Stocks in this region are at record levels due to good stewardship by management agencies such as the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and local residents, the assembly said.