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Researcher Offers Sustainable Fisheries Alternative


Fairbanks, Alaska—Fisheries management in Alaska may not be as sustainable as most people think it is, according to University of Alaska Fairbanks human ecologist Phil Loring.

In a recent article published in the journal Conservation Biology, Loring posits that mainstream views of sustainability, which focus on the needs of a single species at a time, assume the necessity of trade-offs between biological and societal goals.

“We tend to think about people as parasites in ecosystems, with the idea that whatever benefits people—in this case fishing—will necessarily harm the environment,” Loring said. “I believe the future of fisheries management lies in learning to think about people's relationship with the environment in different ways. In the paper, I reference historical Native American and Alaska Native systems in which people contributed to the structure and sustainability of ecosystems through fishing and other resource harvesting activities.”

Alaska commercial fisheries are often touted as success stories, Loring notes, but problems like food insecurity and the disenfranchisement of Alaska Natives’ fishing rights are far too common. Marketing campaigns boasting glossy images of vibrant communities and initiatives that certify Alaska’s fisheries are responsibly managed overlook such concerns, he said.

“I provide three examples that suggest that the purported sustainability of these fisheries may be an illusion,” Loring said. “Challenges like high and rising food insecurity in rural Alaska, and recent king salmon failures across the state highlight the need for a better approach.”

Loring argues that the future lies in management concepts that address the needs of entire ecosystems and that recognize humans as part of those ecosystems. This is in contrast to traditional management philosophy that focuses on single-species goals.

“That approach results in oversimplified notions regarding tradeoffs between conservation of a fishery and human benefits,” Loring said. “I argue for a new philosophy of management rooted in concepts like food security and ensuring that Alaskans have equitable access to locally caught seafood.”

ADDITIONAL CONTACTS: Phillip Loring at 907-474-7163 or ploring@alaska.edu.

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