Sitkan Katelyn Stiles, a doctoral student at UC Davis in Native American and Indigenous Studies, testifies remotely before the Alaska Board of Fisheries on March 10, 2022. The Southeast BOF meeting was originally scheduled for Ketchikan in January, but was rescheduled to Anchorage due to the winter’s COVID surge. (KCAW/Woolsey)

Public testimony on the opening day of the Alaska Board of Fisheries Southeast finfish meeting split along predictable lines, with subsistence advocates speaking in favor of three proposals prepared by the Sitka Tribe of Alaska, and commercial fishing advocates speaking against them.

Some, like Sidney Kinney, who with her husband operates a 58-foot seiner in the Sitka Sac Roe Herring Fishery, encouraged the board to try and understand that the issue – despite the noise – was not a simple us-versus-them problem.

“I’m just one of 47 small business owners in this fishery trying to diversify our operation to stay afloat in our current economic situation,” Kinney said. “We aren’t just up against difficult economic times, but up against social media warriors throwing themselves behind causes they know little about and stamping their name on proposals and spreading false information on platforms that become the pinnacle of how the next generation get their news. We plan to raise our three girls on the back deck. We’re committed to showing them the importance of being stewards of the land and sea which we depend upon for our livelihoods and our subsistence needs as well. That’s why we’re all here isn’t it? To advocate for what we love and what resonates within each of us.”

Kinney is both a citizen of the Sitka Tribe of Alaska and a shareholder in Doyon, Limited, a regional Native corporation in the interior. Kinney was one of 30 people who signed up to testify on Day 1 of the Anchorage meeting in-person.

In Sitka, around 20 people signed up to offer testimony remotely, in a video conference. Katelyn Stiles is Kiks.ádi Tlingit who grew up in California, but now lives in Sitka. She’s also a tribal citizen, and a doctoral student at UC Davis in Native American and Indigenous Studies.

“Tlingit people have stewarded and managed these waters successfully for thousands of years before the State of Alaska existed, creating complex relationships to ensure mutual survival,” she said.

Stiles argued that adopting the Sitka Tribe’s three proposals was a step toward reconciling management of the fishery with sovereign rights spelled out in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Public testimony on herring will continue through Friday at the Board of Fisheries – much of it dominated by the three tribal proposals from Sitka.  In all, there are 14 total management proposals for herring before the board, with deliberation and voting scheduled for Saturday.

Watch the livestream of the Alaska Board of Fisheries 2022 Southeast Finfish meeting.