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  February 26, 2001

Study of Alaskan Fishing Communities
Has Implications for New England

To conduct his research on fisheries management, Seth Macinko routinely flies the more than 6,000 miles from his office on the Avery Point campus to the Alaskan coast. But to understand the importance of his work, all he has to do is look at the fishing villages that dot the New England coast.

"Over the last decade, a lot of major debates over fisheries policy in the U.S. have been greatly influenced by what's happened in Alaska," says Macinko, an assistant professor of geography. "Alaska isn't the sole dominating force, but if you don't understand what is happening in Alaska, you won't understand the evolution of national policy."

In recent years, two issues in particular stand out: property rights and community impact. The transition away from so-called "open access" fisheries toward systems involving individual marketable fishing privileges has been both widely advocated and widely condemned in all regions of the country with commercial fishing industries.

At the same time, there has been a growing interest in the ways in which fisheries management decisions are affecting coastal communities, says Macinko, who is particularly interested in the human aspects of marine resources management policies.

"Everyone agrees that communities are important," he adds, "but no one seems to know exactly how to put this concern into action or how to respond to mandates to consider community impacts more fully in the policy evaluation stage."

Alaska and other states in which fishing is a vital industry have an interest in figuring out how to address these concerns. Typically, regulators' consideration of the communities and the fisheries' impact on them has consisted of consulting Census data, Macinko says.

Using a grant from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Macinko and other researchers recently explored options for what should be the next steps in assessing the impacts on Alaskan fishing communities. Next, they hope to submit a proposal to do on-site work in a selected area.

"Certainly in the world of fisheries management, the new and heightened emphasis on community impacts is directly relevant to New England," Macinko says. "The New England Fishery Management Council is struggling with the same issues."

The broad similarity of the research challenges in two distant and distinct regions has led Macinko to serve in an advisory capacity in both regions. He is a member of the Scientific and Statistical Committee of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council and a member of the Social Science Advisory Council of the New England Fishery Management Council.

In addition to his studies of coastal communities and property rights in fisheries, Macinko is also currently serving as a member of a National Academy of Sciences-National Research Council Committee. The group's task is to review the plans for a program titled the Gulf of Alaska Ecosystem Monitoring program, Macinko says.

The committee's work can be traced to the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound. The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustees Council was established with money from a civil suit brought after the spill. Over the years, the trustees council has used the money to fund habitat restoration, initial damage assessment and other projects.

Recently, the trustees voted to use the approximately $120 million remaining from the original $900 million settlement funds to create an investment fund for the purpose of funding long-term ecosystem monitoring in the spill region indefinitely off the earnings of the fund.

"The National Research Council was brought in for peer review," Macinko says.

With more than 20 years of fisheries experience, Macinko was a logical choice for inclusion on the committee. In the late 1970s, he took a summer job in Seattle preparing pots for a fishery. Instead of returning to college, he parlayed that summer job into a full-time one working the king crab fishery in the Bering Sea and the Gulf of Alaska.

When the fishery collapsed, Macinko took the recommendation of a British fisheries expert and enrolled at England's Plymouth University. He went on to receive graduate degrees from the University of Miami and the University of California, Berkeley, where he wrote his doctoral dissertation on the evolution of property rights in U.S. fisheries.

His graduate work led to a job with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. He left there in fall 1999 to join UConn's faculty.

Allison Thompson