The Bering Sea Elders Group is an alliance of thirty-nine Yup’ik and Inupiaq villages that seeks to protect the sensitive ecosystem of the Bering Sea, the subsistence lifestyle, and the sustainable communities that depend on it. NARF has designed a comprehensive plan to help this group of Alaska Native villages in their efforts to protect the area and become more engaged in its management. Subsistence is the inherently sustainable Native philosophy of taking only what you need. There are often no roads and no stores in rural Alaska, and so no other group of people in the United States continues to be as intimately connected to the land and water and as dependent upon its vast natural resources as Alaska’s indigenous peoples.
The Elders Group currently faces two bottom trawling issues that are of great importance to villages in Western Alaska. First, the current bottom trawl boundary in the Central Bering Sea, known as the Etolin Strait Boundary, lies between Nunivak Island and Cape Newenham and is only 20 miles from Kipnuk, a Yup’ik village. The bottom trawl fleet fishes for yellowfin sole in this region. The Elders Group seeks to readjust the boundary for better fish and marine mammal protection. Second, the NPFMC established the Northern Bering Sea Research Area (NBSRA) and is considering a plan that could potentially open the Northern Bering Sea to bottom trawling.
NARF has been working with the Elders Group on both issues and we have created a strategy that consists of: (1) researching potential aboriginal rights that the Elders Group and its constituent tribes may possess based on their long-term exclusive use and occupancy of the area, (2) preparing the Elders Group for negotiations with the trawl fishermen, and (3) assisting the Elders Group with its participation in the NPFMC process. Our negotiations with the trawl industry continue and we plan to reach a draft agreement by April 2012.
To read the Elders Group’s recent publication, The Northern Bering Sea: Our Way of Life, which describes extensive areas where Alaska Native hunters and local fishermen harvest marine resources, click here.