Sea Grant publishes proceedings of Aleutian Energy-Fisheries Workshop

Controversial gathering sought to bring groups together



NR: SG-2009/NR289

Fairbanks, Alaska—Proceedings from a statewide workshop on offshore oil and gas development near the Aleutian Islands and Bristol Bay is now available from the Alaska Sea Grant College Program.

The proceedings stem from a March 2008 meeting in Anchorage called the North Aleutian Basin Energy-Fisheries Workshop. The workshop gathered Aleutian stakeholders—fishermen, community leaders and residents, state and federal officials, Alaska Natives, environmentalists, and oil-gas industry proponents—to discuss the potential impacts of federally planned offshore oil and gas lease sales. The goal of the workshop was to exchange information and gain a better understanding of the possible impacts of oil and gas exploration and development.

“We wanted to get out ahead of the proposed development schedule and bring people together to identify the possible risks and impacts, both positive and negative,” said Denis Wiesenburg, Dean of the UAF School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, one of the major sponsors of the workshop. “The workshop accomplished this objective.”

But the gathering became controversial when Bristol Bay community groups and environmentalists sought to characterize the meeting as pro-development. The groups chided Alaska Sea Grant and the University of Alaska Fairbanks, two key organizers of the meeting, for accepting $25,000 from Shell, an energy company with a large stake in Aleutian oil and gas exploration.

“A meeting of this size is expensive to put on,” said Wiesenburg. “We sought financial support from the region’s stakeholders. Fishermen’s groups contributed, as did local and federal entities, Alaska Native groups, and Shell, which is also a stakeholder. Environmental groups did not offer financial support.”

Alaska Sea Grant, a federal marine research, education and outreach program at UAF, hired a court reporter to produce transcripts of the meeting. The raw transcripts have been publically available on the Alaska Sea Grant web site since shortly after the meeting. The just-released proceedings is an edited and formatted compilation of all of the presentations, illustrations, question-and-answer sessions, and public comments, assembled and published in a bound 200-page book.

More than 30 stakeholder groups participated in the two-day meeting, including the Alaska Crab Coalition, Alaska Marine Conservation Council, Aleut Corporation, Aleutians East Borough, At-sea Processors, Bristol Bay Borough, Bristol Bay Native Corporation, City of Dillingham, City of Unalaska, Cook Inlet Keeper, Curyung Tribal Council, Kenai Peninsula Borough, Nelson Lagoon Village, North Pacific Fishery Management Council, Peter Pan Seafoods, United Catcher Boats, United Fishermen of Alaska, Shell, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Minerals Management Service, the World Wildlife Fund, and others.

The workshop presented a broad spectrum of viewpoints, both for and against offshore oil and gas development. Participants heard from people and groups opposed to energy development, saying oil and gas development would damage the region’s large and lucrative commercial and subsistence fisheries. Others spoke in favor of development, arguing that commercial fishing jobs are fast disappearing, leaving the region’s younger people without employment and causing them to leave for urban areas like Anchorage. Still others said that not enough was known about the intentions of energy companies to make an informed decision about development. City leaders expressed concern that rural infrastructure needed significant improvements to support the influx of people, equipment and services that would come from large-scale development, and that jobs and job training be part of any development plan.

While residents of Aleutian communities such as Unalaska were cautiously supportive of development, residents of Bristol Bay were largely against development, citing the dangers of oil and gas development near the bay and the environmental damages they expect to see from the proposed Pebble Mine at the headwaters of the region’s commercial salmon fishery.

In all, 240 people attended the workshop. Some 80 percent of attendees who completed evaluations said the workshop was effective at helping energy and fishing interests understand each other. Survey responders were unanimous in their desire to see dialogue continue through additional workshops.

The softcover book, North Aleutian Basin Energy-Fisheries: Workshop Proceedings, is available for purchase, and a downloadable PDF has been posted to the North Aleutian Basin Energy-Fisheries Workshop page.