Connectivity is key issue at fourth BSA summit in Gambell
The Arctic is changing. For years, the elders of northern communities have been reporting it, and scientists have been putting forth much data to support it. In an effort to continue their proactive approach to deal with these changes, the Bering Sea Alliance held its fourth Arctic Resource Development and Infrastructure summit in Gambell on Tuesday, August 2.
The goal of the summit for BSA, an organization that represents the Native villages of Wales, Saint Michael, Stebbins, Unalakleet, Gambell, Golovin and Sitnasuak, was to continue engaging in dialog between the key stakeholders to not only help protect the rich abundance of life in northern marine waters, but to also further develop local economies.
“Connectivity is a really big thing,” said BSA’s Chief Executive Officer Art Ivanoff. “It looks like hyper-globalization is what we are facing today. We need to get up to speed in rural Alaska to compete with what’s going on in the world. This (summit) was more of our efforts to continue ‘threading that needle’ with public and private partners, and really trying to figure out ways to build an economy in our rural villages.”
“The villages need to be part of the process,” continued Ivanoff. “We need a seat at the table to help shape policies, but also to ensure that our villages capture the benefits of the changes created through climate change. So, it’s collaboration and its empowerment, and that’s why, basically, BSA was formed. We felt there was a need for us to work a little closer to increase communication and work on different fronts to bring home the benefits,” he said.
The stage of the fourth ARDI summit was set early by BSA Vice Chair Emily Murray of Golovin Native Corporation. “We all know that the melting of the ice and the changing of the climate has changed our delicate ecosystems that we have,” she said. “Where I come from the ocean is where we get our food from, our rivers is where we get our fish to eat. Our number one economy has always been subsistence, but with the changing of the global system, the melting of the sea ice, there’s an opportunity for us to participate in energy markets and commercial interests globally. I think the two regions that need development of infrastructure are the Norton Sound region and also Calista. We’d like to be involved in how we’d like to see development in our small communities.”
Murray added, “We are asking for a future to protect our communities, but also to build our economy within our communities with the opportunities that come along with global warming, and the changes that are coming. If you look around, I see great potential in our people.”
In order to make informed decisions, BSA needs access to good information. To that end, Ivanoff enlisted the help of Karen Murphy who represents the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives of Western Alaska. The list of LCC-funded projects that are applicable to the Bering Strait region is extensive. Some of the items included are coastal change assessments, mapping of coastlines, shorezone mapping, permafrost and lake change, shipping pattern analysis, climate change in the Bering Straits, subsistence foods vulnerability and protocols for collecting stream temperature data.
Guest speaker Dalee Dorough, a professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage, added to the discussion about indigenous people of the north having more of a voice in the process. “Each of you, and not only St. Lawrence Island, Savoonga and Gambell, but all the Bering Strait communities, through the Bering Sea Alliance, but also through your tribal governments, and your village and regional corporations, can have a say. And that is through exercising your rights,” said Dorough.
Dorough commented on the BSA’s desire to have direct participation in issues affecting the Arctic, such as identifying the safest navigational routes. “You not only have a desire to make sure your voices are heard, in relation to any activity that effects your homelands and your lives, but more significantly, you have the right to be direct participants,” she said.
There are economic opportunities for northern Alaska’s people, said Dorough. These include expanding fisheries, vessel and industry support services, ecotourism and research supports on expeditions. She also presented the idea of the formation of something she called the Alaska Scouts, which could help monitor vessel traffic, help enforce existing laws and aid in search and rescue.
Wales representative Frank Oxereok Jr. thinks there’s merit in that idea. He points out that while there is much talk about the Bering Sea being too vast a body of water to enforce laws, all the traffic north and south must pass through “the bottleneck” of the Bering Strait between his home village and Russia. The residents of Wales are in a perfect position to act as scouts. “We need to minimize the impact these (open shipping lanes) will have in our area,” he said.
Representing Sitnasuak Inc. was Louie Green Jr. He thinks there is room for development in Arctic fisheries. “I think it’s important to be proactive,” he said.
“All the biologists are pointing to the north. There’s going to be big money in that,” he said. “Nome, there’s a port there. There’s been a lot of talk with the Coast Guard about port facilities. From the beginning of time, Port Clarence has been a safe harbor, so it’s another important strategic harbor system that’s already there. What can be done on St. Lawrence Island to be a part of it is a very good discussion to have.”
Shipping Lanes/Polar Code
Of the Bering Strait and Arctic regions, Ellen Anagick, BSA board member from Unalakleet, said, “This is the area that is going to be most impacted by increased marine transportation, increased shipping routes, increased people coming from the east coast.”
Hector L. Cintron of the United States Coast Guard discussed the Port Access Route Study proposed shipping route in the Bering Sea. The Coast Guard has touted this as a 730-mile route in at least 60 feet of water. It would be four nautical miles wide for two-way vessel traffic. It would extend from Unimak Pass to the Chukchi Sea, and would have a possible extension towards St. Lawrence Island.
“This St. Lawrence portion may not stick,” said Cintron. “So my recommendation to you is, as you see this, do not think that this was going to happen, because we don’t know that yet,” he said. He added that sometime in September or October the Coast Guard will open this study up for comments. He suggested to be diligent in finding out when, and for how long, the comment period will be open.
Cintron also introduced the group to the Polar Code. The Polar Code is “a mandatory International Code of safety for ships operating in polar waters, to cover the full range and design, construction, equipment, operational, training, search and rescue and environmental protection matters related to ships operating in the inhospitable waters surrounding the two poles. The safety and protection portion of the code is focused on vessels over 400GT (gross tons) on international voyages. The environmental section of the code applies to all vessels: domestic and international.”
Cintron said the Polar Code goes into effect on January 1, 2017.
“The Polar Code is an extraordinarily progressive development of international law,” Dorough commented. “It represents the rural communities realization that they had to put in place provisions to protect the polar regions, the ice covered areas in the world.”
While there was group consensus about the need for further development of infrastructure, where the funding would come from was not solved. Program Manager Chris Allard of the Denali Commission spoke to the group about his agencies current funding situation. He said, historically the Denali Commission was an effective way for the federal government to provide financial resources to rural Alaska. Traditionally their focus had been on energy programs, health facilities, and to a lesser extent, transportation.
“We don’t have the impact we did a decade ago,” said Allard. In 2005 the Denali Commission was responsible for distributing $140 million in funds. In FY2015 that number had dropped to $20 million. “We have had a wider scope in the past,” he added. “But for now, it’s pretty narrow.”
Currently, the Denali Commission’s limited funds are being steered toward the Environmentally Threatened Communities Program. Allard said that 184 Alaskan villages have been identified as being affected by erosion and flooding, but the commission is presently focused on the four most effected: Newtok, Kivalina, Shishmaref and Shaktoolik. The regional villages of Unalakleet, Golovin, Teller, St. Michael are on the list of the next 27 most affected.
On Monday evening, Ivanoff enlisted the help of two young Gambell leaders, Richard Koozata and Edmond Apassingok, to take Allard and other members of the conference on a field trip to the rock quarry just outside of Gambell. They also visited the potential port site that lies in a protected bay on the east side of the St. Lawrence Island’s northern tip. Ivanoff says the rock there is of high quality and could supply needed infrastructure. “The time is right for Sivuqaq (Gambell Native Corporation) to market their rock for the 184 communities that are affected by erosion,” he said.
One of the last speakers on Tuesday was Bill Culbertson of Olgoonik Native Corporation, which is based in Wainwright. His message for turning collaboration into action was to start small and work big. He stated that the first step is the establishment of cottage industries, such as taking rocks in Gambell and using them as bases for housing. In order to work smaller amounts of money into bigger amounts of money, he offered the Shark Tank strategy, patterned after the popular TV program. Find investors, he said, and make deals with them that benefit both parties. Make some money, and then continue to reinvest it.
Cells Alive System
“What we’d like to eventually see, when it comes to the Arctic, and the Arctic fisheries, is that people in the Arctic call the shots,” said Ivanoff after the conference. “We set the agenda, we set the attack. We harvest the fish. We process the fish and we market the fish. We want an integrated approach to this process so that we can insure that the benefits stay home.”
To make that a reality, Ivanoff has been exploring the Cells Alive System, which is a commercial refrigeration process invented about six years ago. It was developed to preserve the quality of high priced tuna for use as sushi in Japan. The process makes use of magnetic fields and super-cooling to freeze tissue without disturbing the cells. This produces sashimi grade product, which, Ivanoff says, is of the highest quality.
BSA arranged for a Japanese man marketing the process to visit Gambell last month. The meeting was set up to create a bridge with Japan. The BSA has joined forces with a non-profit called Global Sustainable Fisheries of Alaska, who have an exclusive arrangement with Cells Alive to bring the technology to rural parts of the state.
“We’re looking at Homer as the first location, because the biomass of fish,” said Ivanoff. “But the really cool thing about the process is we want to have folks buy into Homer for training, get certified, and work at this plant producing sashimi grade, and then transfer this technology as we proceed to other locations where we can process high quality fish for the market, where we’re not getting a dollar a pound, but maybe six dollars a pound for fish. The shelf life is five to ten years, which is unreal.”
Ivanoff hopes to have the fish processing plant be operational in Homer in the next six to eight months. “But eventually we’d like to transfer the technology to the Norton Sound area,” he said.