Turning Miners into Fishing Guides At Bristol Bay

Here's an interesting story about an innovative program that trains Alaska Native youths from villages surrounding the Bristol Bay area to be fishing guides on the region's many rivers. Yes, that Bristol Bay, you know, the one that unless something is done to stop it, will be transformed from one of the world's richest recreational and commercial fisheries into one of the world's biggest open-pit copper and gold mines.

From this story on the Olean Times-Herald:
_The weeklong academy aims to start youngsters from such towns and villages as Aleknagik, Manokotak, Ekwok and New Stuyahok on a path allows them to eventually work as local sport fish guides."We're trying to make it apparent that that's a business out there -- and it's not something new that has to be created," said Tim Troll, executive director of the Nushagak-Mulchatna/Wood-Tikchik Land Trust, a sponsor of the academy. "We think that lodges would be very interested in hiring locals, but they have to have basic skills. "Personally, I think lodges need to be a little more engaged locally."

__Reuben Hastings, 24, of New Stuyahok, who went through the first academy, is finishing up his U.S. Coast Guard certification, which will enable him to drive a boat with paying clients. "I'm lucky because I grew up in an outdoorsy family where everyone relied on kings, reds and silvers," Hastings said. "That was one of our major protein sources for the winter. "Plus, his father worked as a guide out of the Ekwok Lodge for Luki Akelkok, a lifelong Bristol Bay resident and president of the Ekwok Tribal Council and lodge owner. "He had lots of lodges that wanted him to guide," Akelkok said of Hastings. "He knows the area around here. He was born and raised around here."

Recreational fishing in the Bristol Bay region is big business, with anglers from around the world arriving each summer to pursue feisty salmon, chunky rainbow trout, Dolly Varden and Arctic grayling. "Although the industry provides hundreds of seasonal jobs, local residents, particularly Alaska Natives, have traditionally played a very small part in this lucrative and sustainable industry," said Paula Dobbyn of Trout Unlimited Alaska, one of the academy sponsors. "Most of the jobs go to seasonal workers from the Lower 48. "Trout Unlimited wants to see that change. Recognizing that Bristol Bay is a region of high unemployment with staggering costs, (we) want to encourage residents to get involved in the sportfishing and outdoor recreation industry by providing opportunities for local young."_

Perhaps if the British and Canadian consortium (no, it's not even an American company that's trying to destroy our public resources) is successful in its bid to go ahead with the Pebble mine project, perhaps they could find work for all those young Alaska Natives guiding on the Thames. Because in a few years it'll probably have about as many salmon as Bristol Bay.