Place-Making in the Pribilof Islands

by Courtney Lyons

The Problem

Fisheries managers are legally required to included assessments of fishing communities in the management process (National Standard 8; MSFCA 1996). It is, however, a difficult task. Much of the social data currently collected on fishing communities is based on surveys or interviews administered during brief visits to these communities or gathered from online sources; few kinds of information are collected and they tend to focus directly on involvement in fisheries (e.g., number of boats home ported, pounds of fish landed, number of harbors, number of processing plants; Sepez et al. 2005). Fishing is more than just a source of income, however, it is a way-of-life for many rural residents. Counting the number of boats, docks, and plants in a community, therefore, cannot fully capture the importance of fisheries and fish resources to a community.

This problem is exacerbated in Alaska Native fishing communities, where cultural differences and preferences are rarely explored or understood in fisheries management data collection. Alaska Native communities have complex cultural and historical relationships with fish (e.g., Reedy-Maschner 2010), relationships that are reduced and simplified by managers to fit into neat categories: subsistence and commercial harvest. Relationships with land and resources, however, represent a key component of community sustainability in Alaska Native villages, and yet these relationships are often invisible to resource managers. Previous research indicates that the well-being of Arctic residents stems from three factors: fate control, cultural integrity, and contact with nature (ADHR 2004). An understanding of these complex social factors would, therefore, provide a much better understanding of community resilience and sustainability in the face of fisheries management decisions.

The Study

To better document these relationships and how they are affected by fisheries management decisions, we conducted an ethnographic study of two remote Alaska Native fishing communities, St. George and St. Paul, Alaska. In this study we used the framework of place-making to assess relationships people had with the places they lived and worked and how these relationships were supported or hindered by economic development programs. We had three specific research goals:

  1. Document local place-making efforts in each community
  2. Determine how place-making efforts interact with economic development projects
  3. Determine if these interactions differ between the two communities