People & Culture
Salmon strips drying in New Stuyahok © Ground Truth Trekking/aktrekking.com
Salmon and other commercial fish species play an especially important role in the lives of Bristol Bay residents. Fishing is a significant source of food and income, but it is also a way of life. Commercial fishing and subsistence activities have shaped local families, communities and cultures for generations. For the people who live and work in Bristol Bay, offshore oil and gas development threatens not only livelihoods but whole lives.
In the video Sustainable Fisheries Sustainable Future, below, Bristol Bay fishermen tell their stories and voice their love for this place and its way of life.
Igiugig residents cleaning salmon on the bank of the Kvichak River © Ground Truth Trekking/aktrekking.com
Subsistence activities remain an essential element of life and wild food remains important for health and nutrition. Seasonal food-gathering rituals are shared across regions and generations, bringing families together and shaping social and cultural traditions.
Salmon is one of the more important subsistence foods, comprising 52 percent of the average Bristol Bay Native family’s diet, and the focus of many traditions. One important tradition is the summer fish camp where families gather to catch and preserve their supply of salmon for the year.
Offshore oil development poses a serious threat to Bristol Bay’s abundant salmon runs. For Alaska Natives in Bristol Bay, the loss of salmon would mean the loss of a primary food source, thousand-year-old traditions, and the basis of a whole culture.
Togiak herring fisherman © Scott Dickerson/WWF-US
Salmon fishing and processing is the primary source of income in the region, accounting for nearly 75 percent of jobs. Commercial fishing is also a highly respected way of life. Even for those who live out of state in the off-season, the chance to fish in Bristol Bay is a source of great pride.
Just as Alaska Native elders have passed their knowledge and skills on to younger generations, so too have commercial fishing families shared what they know with their children and grandchildren. Many of today’s commercial fishermen grew up in Bristol Bay and fished with their parents, and fishing permits and vessels are often passed down through families.
Offshore drilling in Bristol Bay is a concern not only for the profound economic impact it would have on commercial fishing, but also for the toll it would take on this cherished way of life.
Healthy Communities Depend on Healthy Fisheries
America’s fish basket has sustained human cultures for many thousands of years and can continue to do so for thousands more, but only if Bristol Bay receives permanent protection from offshore oil and gas development. If Bristol Bay is impacted by development, its people too will be impacted, and ways of life and whole cultures could be lost.
Map of Bristol Bay