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Improving community profiles for the North Pacific fisheries

Abstract

To provide baseline information about a large number of Alaskan fishing communities to fisheries managers, the Alaska Fisheries Science Center’s (AFSC) Economic and Social Sciences Research Program (ESSRP) compiled existing information about, and published the Community Profiles for North Pacific Fisheries – Alaska (referred to as the Community Profiles from here on) in 2005 (Sepez et al. 2005).  The Community Profiles have been widely used as the basis for fisheries management plans, social and economic impact assessments of proposed fishing regulations, and numerous discussions by natural resource agencies.  However, it has become clear that the Community Profiles need to be updated with current information about communities’ dependence on fishing and additional categories of information that would be integral in determining the social and economic impacts of fishing regulations on local communities. 

In preparation for updating the Community Profiles, the ESSRP began the revision process by hosting conversations with community leaders and representatives around Alaska to engage them in how to revise the Community Profiles so that they better reflect their involvement in fishing.  This effort represents a paradigm shift in how communities are engaged in fisheries management in Alaska by bringing them into the information gathering process that indirectly informs policymakers.  The basic assumption of this approach is that communities are best equipped to describe their relationship to fisheries.  To ensure that the new profiles reflect this knowledge, the AFSC consulted with community representatives to ensure that local knowledge about their communities is incorporated.

Meetings were hosted in six Alaska regional hubs and involved over 100 community representatives ranging from tribal elders to community mayors to regional tribal consortiums.  The meetings involved a group dialogue that provided an opportunity for ESSRP social scientists and Alaska community representatives to come together and discuss how to make the Community Profiles more informative and representative of Alaskan communities.  The discussion focused on an exchange of local stories and knowledge that best illustrates the way in which fishing shapes the fabric of Alaskan communities. It is this sort of information that fishery managers need to know about Alaska communities that is not currently represented in the Community Profiles. Our task was to learn how to work with communities to best gather this unique information.  Suggestions were made for improving the criteria for the selection of included communities.  Throughout the meeting process, relationships and ties were built between community members and our team, and it became evident that community input into this source of baseline information about Alaskan fishing communities is a crucial element for improving the involvement of communities in the fishery management process and getting their voices heard.  The information gathered at the meetings is being used to restructure the format of the Community Profiles, compile and organize data that may need to be included in the Community Profiles, and generate new criteria for the selection of included communities.

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