• Sea change, know fish: catching the tales of fish and men in Cordova, Alaska

      Springer, Emilie S.; Schneider, William; Criddle, Keith; Farmer, Daryl; Plattet, Patrick; Shoaps, Robin (2019-08)
      Cordova, Alaska is a coastal community in Southcentral Alaska with an intricate history in commercial fishing, primarily for the Copper River sockeye salmon industry, which extends historically to pre-statehood. This dissertation collects personal narratives as a method to express cultural features of community identity and the role salmon has played in shaping identity, livelihood, and lifestyle in Cordova, Alaska. Research material is based on oral history interviews from which I construct written character portraits to depict aspects of resident life in this fishing community and from others who use the community to access summer salmon resources of the Copper River. Portraits were performed and presented in public venues to obtain casual feedback from and review by community members from Cordova and other participants in the Prince William Sound drift fishery. The portraits and public commentary post-performance or from community readers serve as one basis for analysis and lead to my conclusions about life in this community and, on a larger scale, cultural dimensions common within other communities (either geographic or occupational). Public performances offer a communication tool that provides a method to share differences within the industry without encountering explicit controversy over challenging industry transitions. Although the tool of storytelling does not typically receive significant media or policy attention, I find it very effective in understanding and mediating conflict across different groups of people, especially when the main theme of conflict, sustainability and access to the fishery resource, is a mutual cultural feature of interest to diverse participant groups. Additionally, public creative performances offer a venue of communication primarily designed for entertainment and as a result, the audience interaction with storytellers occurs more casually and perhaps more genuinely than it does in academic conferences or policy meeting venues. Personal stories related to the iconic feature of salmon with mutual significance in state and federal fisheries of the North Pacific are a valuable, intimate source of local and traditional knowledge. The opportunity to put meaningful and commonly shared emphasis on the fish as an economic and cultural resource and not on a particular stakeholder group may help lead to improved communications in a field that tends to illicit conflict in consideration of access to harvest rights.
    • A total environment of change: exploring social-ecological shifts in subsistence fisheries in Noatak and Selawik, Alaska

      Moerlein, Katie J. (2012-05)
      Arctic ecosystems are undergoing rapid changes as a result of global climate change, with significant implications for the livelihoods of arctic peoples. In this thesis, I use ethnographic research methods to detail prominent environmental changes observed and experienced over the past few decades and to document the impact of these changes on subsistence fishing practices in the Inupiaq communities of Noatak and Selawik in northwestern Alaska. Using in-depth key informant interviews, participant observation, and cultural consensus analysis, I explore local knowledge and perceptions of climate change and other pronounced changes facing the communities of Noatak and Selawik. I find consistent agreement about a range of perceived environmental changes affecting subsistence fisheries in this region, including lower river water levels, decreasing abundances of particular fish species, increasingly unpredictable weather conditions, and increasing presence of beaver, which affect local waterways and fisheries. These observations of environmental changes are not perceived as isolated phenomena, but are experienced in the context of accompanying social changes that are continually reshaping rural Alaska communities and subsistence economies. Consequently, in order to properly assess and understand the impacts of climate change on the subsistence practices in arctic communities, we must also consider the total environment of change that is dramatically shaping the relationship between people, communities, and their surrounding environments.