|19 March 2005
Alaskan salmon harvest is a 6,000-year-old practice
Archaeology has helped an Alaskan tribe to prove that its ancient fishing practices do not endanger the environment, and to refute accusations from US naturalists that threatened to end their traditional way of life. As a result, salmon fishing in the Alaska peninsula and the adjoining Aleutian Islands, a mainstay of the local economy for 6,000 years, is being allowed to expand to counter falling prices.
“A solid mixture of indigenous testimony and scientific data made the difference,” say Professor Herbert Maschner and Katherine Reedy-Maschner in Archaeology. Maschner, whose team has been studying ancient Aleut villages for a decade, describes them as “spectacular in size, duration of occupation, and preservation of remains”. The 37-acre Adamgan site, occupied in the first millennium BC, had up to 1,000 residents, and “was a hunter-gatherer town — a rare development in the histories of foraging peoples around the world”. They have found more than 300 village sites, and documented the arrival of the first settlers at the end of the last Ice Age. Anangula, on the Aleutian Islands, “may have been the earliest village in the New World,” they say, and by 1000 BCE towns were beginning to form.
“When the Russians arrived in the region in the 18th century, the Aleut were harvesting millions of salmon,” the investigators say. Now farmed salmon has cut the value of the wild fish which the Aleut sell, and in the 1990s environmentalists tried to cut them off from their traditional fishing grounds, charging that they endangered the protected Steller sealion and damaged the North Pacific eco-system. “After 600 generations the Aleut are faced with their own extinction because of the side-effects of fisheries management policies, US environmental groups, and cheap farmed salmon,” says Maschner.
But the Aleut have used archaeological evidence to show that they have been harvesting salmon for millennia. And last year Maschner presented his data at an Alaska Board of Fisheries meeting in Anchorage. “We argued that this was a traditional fishery with a 6,000-year history, so integrated into Aleut culture that Aleut society could not exist without it.” Alaska Public Radio reported that the evidence “hit the Board like an earthquake” because an argument based on archaeology had never before been advanced. As a result, the sockeye salmon fishing season was greatly extended from last summer.
Source: The Times (14 March 2005)
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