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Bristol Bay Region Welcomes Local As New Marine Advisory Program Agent

ANCHORAGE, Alaska-Bristol Bay, home to Alaska's largest wild commercial salmon fishery, once again has an Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program (MAP) agent to help fishermen, seafood processors and marketers, and other marine resource users.

Bay resident Izetta Chambers was hired by MAP to fill the vacant agent position in Bristol Bay. Chambers will be based in Dillingham at the UAF Bristol Bay campus, and serve the Bristol Bay, Eastern Aleutians, and Alaska Peninsula region. A longtime resident of the community of Naknek, an important fishing and seafood processing town on the east side of Bristol Bay, Chambers recently returned with a law degree from the University of Arizona.

"I am so glad to be back in my home region, and to be on site to help people with their ideas," Chambers said. "I am especially interested in helping people start or even improve seafood processing or seafood marketing businesses."

The Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program is a statewide extension and technical assistance program that helps Alaskans wisely use, conserve and enjoy the state's marine and coastal resources. Alaska Sea Grant is a state-federal research, education and outreach partnership between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF). Alaska Sea Grant and MAP are based at the UAF School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences. MAP has offices in 10 coastal towns across the state.

Chambers and her family operate Naknek Family Fisheries, a seafood direct marketing business that processes and sells about 40,000 pounds of premium-quality, quick-frozen salmon fillets each year. Chambers said involvement in the family business has given her first-hand experience she'll use to help others improve their fishing business savvy and help entrepreneurs get started in their own businesses.

"I have gone through the processes with venturing into direct marketing, helping my mom get on board with direct marketing and then delving into it further with the fish processing business," Chambers said. "I would really like to bring that real life practical experience to work for people of the Bristol Bay Region who want to add more value to their products"

Together with helping diversify the bay's fisheries, Chambers wants to help seafood processors reduce or even eliminate the practice of grinding up fish waste and dumping it into the region's rivers and the bay.

"One of my big long term goals is to move the entire Alaska seafood industry from very wasteful to zero waste," said Chambers.

To do that, Chambers plans to bring seafood scientists, biologists, economists and other specialists together to find better uses for the waste products, ranging from high-tech fish oils to low-tech garden fertilizer that bay residents can use to grow their own food.

"If you go to a store in the bay region you are likely to pay $2.49 a pound for potatoes. Now is that crazy?" said Chambers. "My step-dad has a real green thumb and from an 8x10 plot they have enough potatoes to feed two households. If we can just improve our soil conditions, we would not have to import soil. If you have to buy a bag of soil, it's like $36 dollars. If we can produce these things locally, imagine the economic benefit."

It's likely that Chambers' law degree will help her with more controversial issues being debated in the Bay. Both the proposed Pebble hardrock mine and offshore gas and oil development are expected to continue to inflame passions in the region.

"Our role is not to be advocates for or against any issue, or to take a position on any issue, but I certainly see a role in getting information out there and stimulating discussion, and educating the people on some of the issues, especially concerning water quality," Chambers said. "In the short term I'll probably be organizing conferences and putting on workshops, and inviting people from both sides to state their positions and present data."

Chambers said she also wants to explore the causes of outmigration of people from the region to urban areas in search of jobs and higher education

"In the village of Naknek, so many people have moved away," Chambers said. "When I graduated in 1993 from high school, there were 282 students," explained Chambers. " I think this last year it was down to 144. The high cost of fuel has really put a damper on the economy."

Prior to leaving the state to pursue her law degree, Chambers managed economic development projects for the Lake & Peninsula Business Development Center in King Salmon, and was a general manager with Paug-Vik Inc. Ltd in Naknek, the local Native corporation. Chambers also holds a bachelor's degree in business management from the University of Arizona.

In 2009, Chambers was one of nine winners in the Alaska Marketplace competition, sponsored by the Alaska Federation of Natives, for her new business that makes plant food from compost derived from salmon processing waste.

The Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program also recently filled vacant and new MAP agent positions in Nome and Ketchikan. MAP leader Paula Cullenberg said hiring people with a wealth of local knowledge has been the highest priority.

"We now have MAP positions filled with local residents who understand what we are trying to do with the program," said Cullenberg.

Izetta Chambers began her job in mid-August. Chambers can be reached at 907-842-8323 and via e-mail at: izetta.chambers@alaska.edu.

Posted Sept. 9, 2009

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