Rowan Jacobsen on Alaska’s disappearing salmon
From “Fast fish, loose fish: Who will own Alaska’s disappearing salmon?”
by Rowan Jacobsen, from the May 2009 Harper’s Magazine.
The commercial fishing season on the Yukon River—among the most prolific salmon rivers on earth—usually opens June 15, but last year it didn’t. Alaska’s Department of Fish and Game monitors the river using sonar and test nets and opens the season only after enough fish have passed upriver to their spawning grounds to maintain the population. Although a better-than-average run had been predicted for 2008, by June 15 virtually no salmon had appeared. Or so said Fish and Game. But the 856 Yupik Eskimos living in Emmonak, the village at the heart of Alaska’s Yukon Delta, didn’t believe it. They thought there were plenty of salmon in the river and that Fish and Game had placed its nets in poor locations. Each morning fishermen shyly knocked on the office door of Jack Schulteis, the general manager of Kwikpak Fisheries, and asked, “We fishin’ today?” “Nope,” he told them, and they nodded silently and walked out. They would have to find something else to do until more fish appeared.
As it turned out, when I showed up in Emmonak on what would have been opening day, the replacement project was building coffins. Someone had died in the village that week and another person was close to death. On Saturday there would be a Catholic funeral—the Jesuits had brought their religion here in the 1890s—followed by a traditional Eskimo dance to send off the souls of the departed. First the coffins had to be made.
The Yukon Delta is a treeless marsh larger than the state of Louisiana, situated hundreds of miles from the nearest paved road. Goods arrive by barge or bush plane. The only plywood to be had in Emmonak, as well as the only woodworking shop, was owned by Kwikpak, the one significant employer in town. So the village elders (a semi-official title in Emmonak, akin to city councilman or alderman) had asked Jack Schulteis if he would donate the lumber and the shop for the day.
Schulteis has white hair, a bristly white chin, and the deepest voice I’ve ever heard. He holds a lot of impromptu meetings on the wood-pallet stoop outside the tin garage that is Kwikpak headquarters, smoking and tapping his ashes into the mud and alder scrub. He grew up in the lower forty-eight, he said, but left for Alaska after being arrested at a 1971 antiwar protest in Washington, D.C., and handcuffed overnight in RFK Stadium, which motivated him to move as far from the center of government as he could get. He worked for fishing companies in the Yukon Delta for thirty-five years and has managed Kwikpak since it was formed in 2002. He’s known the local families for decades and is running a business that, in one of the poorest towns in America, could easily slide into being a charity operation. “I get calls all winter,” Schulteis told me as we sat in his office. “‘Jack, they’re turning off my power. Can the company give me a loan on next year’s catch?’ ‘Jack, I’ve got no food.’ And now it’s coffins. What are you gonna do?”
From the Web
A dozen times, user-editors posted word of the kidnapping on Wikipedia’s page on Mr. Rohde, only to have it erased. Several times the page was frozen, preventing further editing— a convoluted game of cat-and-mouse that clearly angered the people who were trying to spread the information of the kidnapping. Even so, details of his capture cropped up time and again, however briefly, showing how difficult it is to keep anything off the Internet— even a sentence or two about a person who is not especially famous. The sanitizing was a team effort, led by Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia, along with Wikipedia administrators and people at The Times. In an interview, Mr. Wales said that Wikipedia’s cooperation was not a given. —“Keeping News of Kidnapping Off Wikipedia,” Richard Pérez-Peña, The New York Times
It took me three days to figure out that there was another side to the tape. That was not the only naive mistake that I made; I mistook the metal/normal switch on the Walkman for a genre-specific equaliser, but later I discovered that it was in fact used to switch between two different types of cassette. Another notable feature that the iPod has and the Walkman doesn’t is “shuffle”, where the player selects random tracks to play. Its a function that, on the face of it, the Walkman lacks. But I managed to create an impromptu shuffle feature simply by holding down “rewind” and releasing it randomly– effective, if a little laboured. I told my dad about my clever idea. His words of warning brought home the difference between the portable music players of today, which don’t have moving parts, and the mechanical playback of old. In his words, “Walkmans eat tapes”. So my clumsy clicking could have ended up ruining my favourite tape, leaving me music-less for the rest of the day. —“Giving Up My iPod for a Walkman,” Scott Campbell, BBC News (via)
Fun articles from the National Center for Biotechnology Information (via); Episcopal priest (retired Chaplain Corps) responds to “Jesus Killed Mohammed” from the May 2009 Harper’s Magazine; Michael Jackson, bibliophile; past celebrities whose deaths were eclipsed by more important deaths (via); Gladwell on Anderson’s Free
The scope and scale of the Somalia problem extends beyond intelligence agency covert action. Other ungoverned spaces will also require the involvement of U.S. military resources and thus supporting doctrine and strategy from the Pentagon policy office. Ungoverned spaces and the “Somalia prototype” circle back to the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan. U.S. policymakers would no doubt be ecstatic if Afghanistan would transition to another Colombia: a strengthening central government with improving security forces, making progress against an insurgency with the assistance of a very small U.S. advisory team. But the darker outcome for Afghanistan also looms, the Somalia prototype. This could occur after the U.S. public becomes exhausted with the current effort and after Afghanistan’s central government fails to come together. The Pentagon would then have to create a new doctrine, how to manage a “post-COIN” conflict. —“Pentagon Planners Should Study Somalia, Not Just Hezbollah,” Robert Haddick, Small Wars Journal