Study: Changing population dynamics could impact the future of marine mammal hunting
A new study indicates that who can hunt marine mammals may change in the future under the current definition of "Alaska Native."
A Sealaska Heritage Institute study released earlier this month suggests that the way the Marine Mammal Protection Act is currently written, which only allows Alaska Natives who are at least one-quarter native to hunt or use marine mammals for food or clothing and arts and crafts, could become problematic in the future. Those originally enrolled as Alaska Native under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act are also eligible under the act.
That's because the study indicates that the portion of the population eligible to use marine mammals under the rule is decreasing quickly.
In Bristol Bay, from 2006 to 2011 about 29 percent of the individuals who were enrolled as Alaska Native by the Bureau of Indian Affairs had less than one-quarter of Native blood, similar to the statewide average. For other management issues and BIA services, the lower amount is enough. From 2011 through 2016, that increased to 40 percent, higher than the statewide average, making it an issue that could have a larger impact locally. The issue is even more pronounced in the Gulf of Alaska, where the rate is higher, and Southeast Alaska had a rate of increase similar to Bristol Bay.
The study also delved into why that could matter. According to data provided, in the Southwest region, which includes Bristol Bay and the Aleutians, in 2012 residents harvested an average estimated 3.2 kilograms of usable marine mammal as part of their subsistence needs, according to the report. That's more than Southeast Alaska and South-central, but less than the Arctic region, which included the Nome area, the North Slope Borough and Northwest Arctic Borough.
The entity that commissioned the study was a cultural nonprofit connected to the regional Alaska Native Corporation for Southeast Alaska, Sealaska. The study was released ahead of the Alaska Federation of Natives meeting in Fairbanks, where participants typically discuss major issues in the coming years. It was commissioned by Sealaska Heritage Institute, and funded by Afognak Native Corporation, the Native Village of Afognak, Church Alaska Corporation, Koniag Incorporated, NANA, the North Slope Borough, Sealaska and SHI.
In past years, AFN has considered resolutions suggesting a change to how Alaska Native was defined. The study does not suggest a path forward, although it does outline multiple possibilities, such as changing how Alaska Native is defined under the act, or relating it more specifically to Tribal membership instead of blood quantum.
Molly Dischner can be reached at email@example.com.