Commercial and subsistence fisheries in Alaska are complex social-ecological systems constituting interdependent components which include economics and culture at the local and regional levels. Each fishery has unique challenges and benefits; however, a commonality that can be found in coastal communities in Alaska is that salmon fisheries are for many a way of life that serve to link commercial and subsistence practices to family and traditions. This research investigated whether and how culture is a key component of subsistence and commercial fisheries in three core study communities in different parts of coastal Alaska; Chenega Bay in Prince William Sound, Kokhanok in Bristol Bay, and Tyonek in Cook Inlet, and includes summary research findings from 12 comparative communities on the south side of the Alaska Peninsula, Kodiak Island, and Southeast Alaska. The research sought to understand 1) how people in different areas of Alaska articulate the role of subsistence fisheries in their communities, 2) what factors are impacting participation in commercial fisheries, and 3) what methods could be used to assess the resilience and vulnerability of such diverse coastal communities in Alaska. Among the factors investigated in each community were the role of local level politics and how local knowledge is passed down through participation in subsistence salmon fishing activities. To examine methodologies for assessing community vulnerability and resilience within a larger system, quantitative data gathered through household surveys was used to provide a basic statistical assessment of the economic and subsistence landscape of coastal communities in Alaska. But it was through in-depth semistructured interviews, during which residents shared their own personal stories, that a broader, more accurate assessment of resilience and the complexity of community-based fisheries was achieved. During household harvest surveys administered in the core study and comparative communities, as well as through in-depth interviews conducted in the three core communities, residents articulated how participating in salmon fishing is an expression of a subsistence way of life and of cultural traditions. Commercial fishing as a way of life is also something they seek to pass on to their children. In all of the study communities, residents noted that the reasons they continue to live in their rural coastal communities include family, culture, home, a subsistence lifestyle, and a sense of freedom. Challenges to maintaining continuity in the commercial fishery, and to passing on this lifestyle to their children, include the price effects of the globalization of salmon markets, market access to sell one's fish, and financial difficulties of entering a capital-intensive fishery. However, there are and have been efforts in each of the three communities to revitalize participation in commercial fishing. Residents of these fishery dependent communities have a strong connection to salmon as an economically valuable resource through commercial fishing, and to salmon as a cultural and place-based resource by participating in subsistence salmon fishing.
Thesis (Ph.D.) University of Alaska Fairbanks, 2017
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