Just east of the Kenai Peninsula in south central Alaska sits Prince William Sound: an inlet full of tidewater glaciers spanning 3,800 miles of coastline and flanked by the jagged Chugach Mountains. Home to several species of salmon and other fish, commercial fishing has been the main industry that has sustained its communities for decades. But warming waters caused by climate change has led to fewer fish stocks, making commercial fishing more challenging and less profitable.
“I never had any interest in buying a fishing permit or owning my own boat because I saw the changes happening,” said Rion Schmidt, a Sugpiaq Native who has worked in fishing and fish research his whole life. “Fewer and fewer fish, water warming up; I realized while I might be able to live a subsistence lifestyle and eat these foods, that making all my money off the fisheries might not be totally sustainable for someone like myself.”
Instead, he’s looking to another species that has supported Indigenous Alaskans for millennia: kelp. The nonprofit Native Conservancy has started a program to empower and equip young Indigenous people with the resources and training to start their own kelp farms. The goal is threefold: creating economic opportunities; supporting the health of the ocean; and connecting people to a traditional food source.
Schmidt is one of seven soon-to-be-kelp-farmers working with the Native Conservancy to build out his 22-acre kelp farm next year. Cultivating this traditional food in its natural environment is a prime example of food sovereignty, which Schmidt defines as “protecting Native people’s right to the resource.”
The Native Conservancy is the first Native-owned and Native-led land trust, which empowers Alaska Native peoples to permanently protect and preserve endangered habitats on their ancestral homelands.
The Conservancy was founded in 2003 by Dune Lankard, who grew up in the Copper River Delta and Prince William Sound. There, his family fished and hunted wild game and always had more than they could fit in their freezers. They regularly delivered their excess to friends and family who appreciated traditional foods and didn’t have the time, energy, or resources to hunt and fish themselves. He learned at an early age that sharing an abundant harvest was not only an act of philanthropy and good will, but also a responsibility.
Read the full article about ocean farming by Judy Bankman at GreenBiz.
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