Eric Siy is the former director of the Alaska Marine Council, and a member of the Responsible Fishing Alliance. Here he talks about what AK Marine is contributing to the fishing communities in Alaska and about their projects to help support global small scale fisheries.
Eric Siy is a man with a mission. When he attended Slow Fish 2011, which was his first time at the event, he realized that he wasn’t the only person in the world working on these problems. “It was a great relief,” he said, in reference to the event and meeting many other fishermen and people working on fishery issues from around the world. Eric began his career as the director of the Alaska Marine Council in the United States. Alaska is a wealth of resources for many people, and among those that he represents are the community based coastal conservation groups. He works with some of the last community based conservation groups in the U.S., at a time when many of the conservation efforts are going to larger NGO’s, the Alaska Marine Council’s mission is to connect these groups with the larger market place and help maintain small scale, sustainable fishing along the Alaskan coast. Their mission is to continue their continue as the “only organization working statewide with traditional fishing communities to protect the natural diversity and integrity of Alaska's marine ecosystems.”
Alaska’s fishing industry is large. The total value of the commercial fisheries is $1.5 billion to the fishermen; with a wholesale value of $3.6 billion. Economists have estimated the seafood industry to contribute $5.8 billion and 78,500 jobs to the Alaskan economy. These of course are not all small fishermen, but most are large corporations that are controlling a large portion of the fishing areas. AK Marine is working for the fishermen in these small communities, many of whom have small boats to capitalize on their assets, which is the fish themselves. At the same time, they are working to preserve the fishing grounds and waters, by sustainable utilizing their resources. Eric goes on to say that they are working on “ideas for market based strategies and for traceability between the fishermen and consumers”. They see this as a defining idea, and of course, many people are catching on.
They have implemented two campaigns to help the coastal fishing communities in Alaska. The first is the “Catch of the Season”. This is designed like a CSA program, only it is labeled a CFA or “community supported fishery”. Providing freshly, and ecologically caught fish to those subscribing in Alaska, they are working to supply consumers with a high quality product that they can feel good about paying for and eating.
The other program that Eric worked to start is the Sustainable Fisheries Trust, which includes the Alaskans Own Seafood brand. Through this venture, they are working to provide the best quality fish to the most discerning consumers. As they say on the web site; “When you purchase Alaskans Own ™, you are investing in the future of wild Alaskan fisheries and in the artisan fishing communities whose caring practices are vital to ocean health.” This seems to be a model that many fishing communities present at Slow Fish could look at for inspiration, at least this is what Eric thinks. He is also working with the Responsible Fishing Alliance to create and worldwide network of fishermen, standards and labeling that will not only improve the ability of these communities to survive, but also work together to create value added products.
Overall, Eric seemed optimistic that a new generation of people will see the importance of fisheries and the oceans, and become more active and involved in the conservation of those resources. He concluded by saying that it is all about “people to people, community to community, that is what equals sustainability”.