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Ocean-Protection Goals Build on Conservation Efforts by Alaska Fishermen

SITKA, Alaska -- Members of the Alaska fishing industry are among those looking forward to their seat at the table in making progress on the White House's goal of protecting 30% of U.S. ocean waters by 2030.

The U.S. Interior Department released its "America the Beautiful" report last week, which outlines steps to restore biodiversity, curb climate change and increase access to natural spaces.

Linda Behnken, executive director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen's Association, said it's essential to recognize Indigenous people as original stewards of the land, and build on local conservation efforts.

"We want to promote, whether it's fisheries, farming, ranching, forestry, that's sustainable and supports local economies," Behnken outlined. "And stop practices that undermine the health of the resource that local people depend on."

She noted there has been a huge amount of ocean-protection advocacy among the sustainable commercial fishing community in Alaska, from successfully persuading the Legislature to ban trawl gear in southeast Alaska, to working to build climate resiliency.

Natasha Hayden, who is Alutiiq Sugpiaq and an elected tribal representative for the village of Afognak, said historically, the federal government has not involved Indigenous communities in important policy decision-making, even though they have been sustainably managing resources for thousands of years.

She hopes the initiative is a step in the right direction.

"Hopefully that will provide more opportunities for Indigenous people, marginalized people, people who have really suffered at the hands of some existing policies and management schemes to be more inclusive in policymaking," Hayden explained.

David Levine, co-founder and president of the American Sustainable Business Council, said having a healthy environment is critical for the well-being of the economy and diverse business sectors, from the fishing and tourism industries that rely on high biodiversity to the agriculture and beverage-production industries that require clean water and more.

He emphasized that's why they launched an initiative called Businesses for Conservation and Climate Action.

"We just think it could accomplish multiple things: protecting our environment, addressing the climate crisis, and helping communities and sustainable business thrive as a part of it," Levine remarked.