Political Issues in the Pribilof Islands Resulting from Resource Development

This page was written by Jeanette Wolak and Erin Klauk as part of the DLESE Community Services Project: Integrating Research in Education.

Fisherman with Halibut on St. George Island, Pribilof Islands, AK. Details

Environmental Policies

The Aleuts of the Pribilof Islands have faced many environmental challenges over the last century. The delicate ecological balance of the islands depends on a number of factors, including wildlife management and pollution containment.

Biologists and ecologists closely monitor populations of seabirds, marine mammals and fish in the Bering Sea. The communities of the Pribilof Islands have several policies in place to try to preserve this unique diversity. For example, fishing vessels that come ashore on the islands are carefully inspected for rodents. The introduction of rats (more info) onto the Pribilofs would destroy the seabird population. Many of the seabird species are already endangered.

Policies also exist to address pollution that occurred in the Pribilof Islands during WWII. The U.S. government occupied St. Paul and St. George Islands during wartime, and the Aleuts of the Pribilofs were moved into internment camps on mainland Alaska (Corbett and Swibold, 2000). The islands were turned into storage grounds for army equipment and hazardous materials. The cleanup of these materials has taken several decades, but is now nearing completion.

Economic Policies

In addition to environmental policies, the Aleuts have recently had to implement new economic policies that reflect the shift from a sealing industry to fishing and crabbing. To learn more about the economic history of the Aleuts of the Pribilof Islands, click here.

For over a century, the primary source of income and interest in the Pribilofs concerned the hunting of northern fur seals and other marine mammals (Corbett and Swibold, 2000). Today, less than 1,000 seals are harvested each year and only for the purpose of subsistence living on St. Paul and St. George. The Aleuts of the islands have been forced to shift their economy toward other interests, including fishing and ecotourism.

Many commercial vessels pass through the Bering Sea. Over fishing has led to a decrease in the distribution of cod, salmon, halibut and other large fish in the Bering Sea ecosystem (more info) . Aleut fishermen are forced to venture farther and farther each year from the Pribilofs in order to compete in the Bering Sea commercial fishing industry. In addition, fishing quotas are in place to limit the amount of fish individually-owned and commercial fishing vessels can take each season.

Crabbing in the Pribilofs has also been a source of economic input for Aleut communities on St. Paul and St. George. However, crabbing seasons are very short, and the income from this industry varies significantly from year to year. Strict policies and quotas are established to control the amount of crabs taken and to try to stabilize this industry and the crab populations in the Bering Sea (Crab Fishery Management (more info) ).

To further investigate policy issues in the Pribilofs from resource development, check out the links below:

General Policy Resources in the Pribilofs

Resources containing general information about political issues in the Pribilofs.

  • Henry Wood Elliott: Defender of the Fur Seal. This resource features an award winning, student produced documentary film that fufills the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration´┐Żs obligations for the National Historic Preservation Act. Users can download movies or short movie clips that describe the first studies of the fur seal in the Pribilofs by Henry Wood Elliot, including historical, environmental, and economic policies that may have saved the seal from extinction. (more info)

Environmental Policies in the Pribilofs

Resources containing information about environmental policies in the Pribilofs.

  • Cleanup in the Aleutians. This 3-page U.S. Army Corps of Engineers article describes the environmental impacts of warfare on the Aleutian Islands and efforts to clean up the area. The Corps is also attempting to preserve the memory of significant historical events through the collection and preservation of local artifacts and records. (more info)
  • Environmental Restoration in the Aleutain/Pribilof Region. This site features a letter from the 2001 director of the Center for Public Environmental Oversight, Lenny Siegel, in which he describes the military occupation of the Aleutian Islands and Pribilofs during World War II. General information about the environmental policies concerning cleanup of military sites on the islands is provided, as well as a "Tribal Policy" for restoration from the local Inuit tribes who live on the islands. (more info)
  • Pribilof Islands Contamination. This website provides an overview of the contamination and resulting environmental impacts on the Pribilof Islands. The site details both human health and environmental concerns, and the current status of cleanup action now in progress. Current laws and contaminated site databases are also available from the site. (more info)
  • Resources on Alaska History and Politics. This National Park Service website offers links to a variety of articles about the history and politics of Alaska. Users can download PDF articles about World War II in Alaska, the Alaska Goldrush, and national historic places. The site also features links to educational resources such as teachers' guides to teaching about historic places and culture. (more info)
  • The Rat Threat in Alaska. This PBS article provides a short summary of the impact a rat infestation could have on the wildlife of the Pribilof Islands. (more info)

Economic Policies in the Pribilofs

Resources containing information about economic policies in the Pribilofs.

  • Crab Fishery Management. This NOAA resource provides general information about crabbing and crab fishery policies in the Bering Sea. (more info)
  • Managing Alaska's Halibut: Observations from the Fishery. This 12-page National Research Council report (PDF format) describes Alaskan commercial fishing industry management in the 1990s. The site provides specific information concerning halibut distribution in the Bering Sea and features links to references cited. (more info)
  • West Bering Sea. This NOAA resource provides general information about resources and resource development in the West Bering Sea Large Marine Ecosystem. (more info)

For ideas on how to use these webpages in a classroom, a Study Guide is provided.