Proposed Aleutian Islands Marine Sanctuary Meets With Opposition

Residents of the fisheries dependent Aleutian Islands
borough are challenging environmental and economic benefits posed by
environmental groups seeking creation of a national marine sanctuary in the
Aleutian Islands
The Aleutians East Borough Assembly on Jan. 8 voiced
unanimous opposition to creation of the Aleutian Islands National Marine
Sanctuary, as proposed by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. The
nomination was submitted to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
in late December.
The borough assembly said that the NOAA national sanctuary
nomination process clearly states that every nomination starts at the community
level. The borough government is not aware of any local support from local
regional communities, tribes or local groups for this nomination, the assembly
The state of Alaska has not yet commented on the proposed
marine sanctuary, but Acting Alaska Commissioner of Fish and Game Sam Cotten
said Jan. 13 that it was unlikely that the state would support it. “We’d be
concerned that there would be serious negative impacts on the fishing industry
and some of the area reopened to fishing might be at risk,” he said.
PEER proposed 10 goals for the proposed sanctuary, including
permanent prohibition of offshore oil, gas and mineral leasing and regulation
of transit merchant shipping to reduce the risk of oil spills and whale-ship
PEER’s nomination cites the Aleutian Islands marine
ecosystem as one of the most biologically productive in the world ocean,
supporting the largest populations of marine mammals, seabirds, fish and
shellfish in the nation, and one of the largest anywhere in the world.
PEER’s proposal was made on behalf of PEER’s Alaska members,
including marine conservation consultant Rick Steiner, a retired University of
Alaska professor of marine conservation. The nomination is also endorsed by the
Center for Biological Diversity, Anchorage; the Eyak Preservation Council,
Cordova, AK; the Center for Water Advocacy in Homer, AK; North Gulf Oceanic
Society, Homer, AK; The Ocean Foundation, Washington D.C.; and Marine
Endeavors, a seabird conservation consulting firm in Oakland, CA.
The AEB resolution voiced concern on how such prohibitions
would affect the borough economy, saying that “the potential designation
would make all current restrictions to fishing and other commerce permanent and
would authorize further onerous permanent restrictions. The borough and other
tribes in the area are concerned this could cause economic harm to communities
within this area, which are mostly dependent on commercial fishing.”
The borough resolution said that protections from
overfishing, increased shipping and risks associated with oil and gas
development are unnecessary because those safeguards are already in place from
federal and state agencies.

Stocks in this region are at record levels due to good
stewardship by management agencies such as the North Pacific Fishery Management
Council, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and local residents, the
assembly said.