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10/18/2005: "Wild Stocks and Wetsuits"

There are at least two things I never anticipated. One is living in Alaska and marrying a commercial harvest diver and the other is the endless preparation of letters and comments to protect forests and coast lines to stop the building of roads and leases of publicly owned coastlines to farmers.

I live with what some call a “resource extractor.” Spencer dives for the wild stocks of sea cucumbers and geoduck clams (pronounced gooey duck) and trolls for salmon. He and others also used to dive for abalone, but it seems like a combination of the reintroduction of hungry sea otters and over harvesting closed down that fishery. Spencer also happens not only to harvest wild foods to sell, he hunts and fishes for home use and writes more letters and makes more comments about the enviroment than I can keep up with.

Last week we had a public hearing in Sitka hosted by the Alaska Department of Natural Resources about the leasing of sites for aquatic geoduck farms. This comes in the wake of lots of fighting to keep out fish farms and to try to protect the wild stocks of salmon and other seafood in Alaska. I wrote my comments out but preferred to hear others share their views out loud than speak myself. But given this blog and the potential that it just might get read, here is what I am submitting in writing and did not say in public.

I do not want geoduck farms in S.E. Alaska and am against this privatization of public resources. This past summer I happen to go snorkeling at one of the proposed sites on Krestof Island around Robb Point/Hayward Strait. At the time I was in awe. I had never seen such diversity of life like fish and eels, shellfish and more as I snorkeled along the shoreline. I know in the proposal to use this site for a geoduck farm the applicant says they will not disrupt use or access to this area for subsistence, recreation, tourism or other commercial use. These rights are supposedly protected. They also write that they will not disturb wildlife such as deer and bears. I find this hard to believe given what it entails to maintain and protect an aquatic farm. If the operation is successful it will grow and that will require additional infrastructure and more use of the area around the site. Then will it be accessible or not? Will the owners or workers at the farm be happy to see me arrive in a wetsuit? Will they welcome a hunter anchoring nearby to hike the shore? Will the operation of the farm impact wildlife and wild geoduck stocks? In addition and unfortunately the reputation of geoduck farms elsewhere is one of greed and poaching wild stocks. The proposal claims benefits of possible employment and income to the state. Yet, I’m not sure what benefits the citizens of Sitka and the state truly get from private farms and if we too will experience the reality of this not-so-good history of farming. This particular site I mentioned seems better left to the public. Is setting it aside for an aquatic farm, as the proposal quotes from the Northern Southeast Area Plan in the “best interest?” It may be for the farmer and a handful of individuals, but I don’t think it is for the public.