Local News

Herring roe debate continues at STA council

SITKA, ALASKA
A January letter from the Tribe to the Alaska Department of Fish & Game urged the state to enforce rules limiting the subsistence harvest only to Alaska residents. That prevented the fishing vessel Julia Kae – whose captain lives in Washington state – from performing its annual roe-on-hemlock harvest. The Julia Kae and Captain Steve Demmert annually delivered roe for free to residents of Sitka and surrounding communities.

The project was supported by commercial fishermen who participate in Sitka’s annual sac roe herring fishery.

Last fall, the council voted almost unanimously to ask for more enforcement, with only then-member George Paul in opposition. But since then, Council Member Dale Williams wrote a letter to the editor, saying he’s changed his mind about tougher enforcement, because he didn’t realize how many communities obtained roe from the Julia Kae.

Former Tribal Council member Tom Gamble was among those urging tougher enforcement last fall. He appeared at Wednesday night’s Tribal Council meeting saying he took exception to Williams’s letter. And he explained his stance on the subsistence harvest. Having someone harvest roe on behalf of traditional users wasn’t the same, he said, as letting the traditional users do it themselves. Gamble made an analogy using the Pebble Mine project in western Alaska.

“If the people who want to expand Pebble Mine come up to the Native in habitants and say, ‘Look, we realize you’re no longer going to catch sockeye salmon in the millions of pounds that you used to, so how about we just annually buy you a million pounds of fresh canned tuna in trade, and that’ll fix your subsistence problem, because you’re still going to have fish to eat.’ That takes away the spirituality of the whole harvest for me. It means absolutely nothing if I’m going to go grab eggs off of somebody’s boat to go and give to somebody else.”

Also at the meeting Wednesday was former Tribal Council member George Paul who, before his removal from the council last fall, was the lone vote against tougher enforcement of subsistence roe regulations.

Paul said the Julia Kae needs to be able to distribute the roe, and that efforts by the Tribe to distribute roe weren’t as plentiful as what the Julia Kae was able to bring in.

“The herring eggs aren’t going out to the tribal citizens in brown boxes,” Paul said. “What’s going out is in shopping bags. And unlike the Julia Kae where it’s anybody that wants it, it’s to a defined, closed clientele. From what I’m understanding, it’s tribal elders.”

A motion was made during the meeting to rescind the Tribe’s letter to Fish & Game, but it failed, 6 to 2.
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