Understanding the Alaskan Past, Present and Future Through Its Fisheries

The tradition of fishing has been very strong in Alaska for centuries and centuries, practically ever since the native Inuit communities set themselves up in the area permanently. While civilizations farther south were engaging in agriculture and even livestock raising, the native Alaskan communities were focusing practically all of their efforts on how to harvest the products of the sea. Through this long and toilsome process that was built upon and refined across countless generations, a strong respect for the delicate balance of marine ecosystems was developed and a wealth of knowledge was accumulated-knowledge that continues to be applied to this very day, albeit conditioned and altered by the presence of state of the art technology.

All was not well for the fisheries of Alaska, however, as heavy commercial fishing operations began to be carried out in Alaskan waters in the beginning of the 20th century. The tradition of fishing that had been established and venerated by the native population in the area was casually cast aside by unscrupulous seafood tycoons coming from other parts of the nation, a development that was hardly surprising given the fact that Alaska wasn’t even a state yet, but rather a final frontier being trampled alternately by American, Canadian and Russian interests. All of that would change, however, and the damage would be more than undone when Alaska acquired statehood in 1959-and the tradition of fishing sustainably and responsible was enshrined in the nascent state constitution.

No other state has taken the issue of sustainable fisheries to such extremes as is the case with Alaska, and it is an example that ought to be emulated the world over. Following the regrettable happenings of the early 20th century (described above), Alaska managed to turn itself into a place of outstandingly healthy and voluminous seafood species stocks, uncontaminated waters, and healthy spawning/breeding grounds. At present, there isn’t a single species of Alaska seafood that is in danger of becoming extinct! That’s good business for today and it will certainly be good business for the future of Alaska, which depends on the ability of large commercial fishers and small community fishers to continue harvesting the waters together, responsibly divvying up the generous gifts of Mother Nature and further developing the tradition of fishing that makes Alaska such a unique place.