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Tribal groups applaud Alaska Native appointments to federal fisheries advisory panel

Crew members shovel pollock onboard a trawler on the Bering Sea in 2019.
Nat Herz
Alaska Public Media
Crew members shovel pollock onboard a trawler on the Bering Sea in 2019.

Amid alarmingly low salmon returns in Western Alaska, calls have grown for tribes to have a greater say in the way fisheries are managed. Many say that the recent appointment of three Alaska Native members to the panel tasked with advising the top regional federal fisheries council could be a step in the right direction.

A recent press release from the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim Tribal Consortium, representing 98 tribes directly impacted by salmon crashes in Western Alaska rivers, said that it was encouraging to see more Alaska Native faces than ever before on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council’s Advisory Panel. But it also called out the council for having a “voting majority with an economic interest in the trawl fleet,” as well as a total lack of Alaska Native representation.

“It's something that we've been fighting for and asking for for many years. The fight for Alaska Native subsistence rights is getting a lot of attention right now because things are crashing,” said Eva Dawn Burk, who was recently appointed to a three-year term on the advisory panel, holding its first-ever designated Alaska Native seat.

“I sit on at least four Alaska Native advisory councils, and it's like, yeah, I'm an advisor, but I don't have decision-making power,” Burk said.

Burk is Dene’ Athabascan, from Nenana and Manley Hot Springs, and currently holds advisory positions with both the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the Federal Subsistence Board. She has also spearheaded multiple educational projects in her region aimed at preserving traditional knowledge and ensuring food security.

“It kinda was naturally like this is the next thing to kind of bring all those perspectives together,” Burk said.

The first appointee to the tribal seat now occupied by Burk was Shawaan Jackson-Gamble, who is Lingít and Haida from Kake. He resigned the seat just months after being selected amid sexual assault charges stemming from a 2019 incident in Washington state.

Not all of the current Alaska Native members of the advisory panel are fresh faces. Mellisa Johnson has served on the panel since 2020 and was reappointed for a three-year term in December 2023. She is Iñupiaq and a member of the Nome Eskimo Community. In 2023, she was passed over by Gov. Mike Dunleavy for a voting seat on the 11-member council she currently advises.

The third Alaska Native appointee is newcomer Tiffany Andrew, assigned a one-year term. She is a Yup’ik tribal council member of the lower Yukon River village of Alakanuk, and handles government affairs for the Yukon Delta Fisheries Development Association, a non-profit corporation with a vested interest in the Bering Sea pollock fishery.

This is thanks to a long-standing federal community development quota (CDQ) program aimed at boosting the economic and social prospects of Western Alaska communities. The program allocates a percentage of the allowable commercial catch of various federally managed fisheries to non-profit corporations like Andrew’s.

According to her resume, Andrew is a lifelong subsistence harvester, growing up fishing for salmon on a river that in recent years has been nearly completely closed to salmon fishing. But she also represents a CDQ group with proven results stimulating the region’s economy, largely thanks to its stake in a pollock fishery accused of fueling the salmon crisis. She said that bringing together different points of view is critical.

“There’s too much subsistence needs not being met, and CDQ issues going on as well that we all need to see from all perspectives,” Andrew said.

Evan Erickson is a reporter at KYUK who has previously worked as a copy editor, audio engineer and freelance journalist.
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