Recipient: Elizabeth Cockrell, Class of 2012
Majors: Environmental Studies; Economics and Anthropology/Sociology Minors
Internship Position: Summer Intern
Non-Profit Organization: Sitka Conservation Society, Sitka, Alaska
by Elizabeth Cockrell
This summer was a crash course in salmon ecology and living in a community where everyone depends on one resource. Many people's work related to salmon such as employees of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and commercial fishermen, but even if their jobs aren't directly related to salmon they play a large part in their lives. Nearly everyone in Sitka had a boat and if, like me, you didn't have one you had offers from at least one person every weekend to go out fishing. Subsistence fishing is a richer way of life than just using salmon to offset the high cost of the groceries barged in from the lower 48. Salmon means feeding your kids, giving it away freely to someone who's sick of just hasn't had time to go fishing, it brings marine nutrients to the rainforests of Southeast Alaska, it supports bear, wolf, and even some deer that have adapted to take advantage of the abundant salmon runs.
My work this summer revolved around what salmon means. In order to understand salmon I worked on memorizing the five types of salmon found near Alaska, being able to identify them, and familiarizing myself with their life history. I also read some of the many publications about the economic, social, and anthropological values of salmon. All of these publications were very informative but their focus was always on one aspect of salmon's value to the exclusions of the others. In order to produce convincing brochure and other polished publications my supervisor and I focused on ascertaining a rounded picture of salmon's value in Southeast Alaska. My task in this effort was to photograph, take videos, and conduct interviews during trips to the field and elsewhere. The photos and video were a collaborative effort with one of my supervisors who would also go on trips into the field, but my major undertaking this summer was interviewing anyone and everyone who interacted with salmon and in Southeast Alaska it is hard to find someone who does not have close ties to salmon.
I interviewed officials from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Forest Service Fisheries and Wildlife Staff, commercial fishermen who could recount their father's efforts for Alaska to gain statehood and thus control of its fisheries, and local restaurant owners who serve wild, locally caught, fresh salmon, among others. Trying to fit all of these interviews was a major undertaking because everyone schedules trips into the field and out fishing so coordinating schedules often took a month or more. Salmon's multi-faceted value was important to document because when we focused on communicating the work the Forest Service was doing related to salmon we could communicate the facts about their projects but also create human interest by relating what salmon mean to the people actually doing the restoration work. When I asked Forest Service Fisheries and Wildlife staff what salmon means to them I had responses from life to family to epic tales of the one that got away to the Tongass National Forest to Alaska. It turns out that for these people salmon are sustenance, hobby, and work all rolled into one. The more we could convey that message to politicians in Alaska and Washington D.C., as well as people in the lower 48, we were also expressing the importance for keeping Alaska's fisheries wild and restoring salmon habitat to preserve those runs.
From my raw materials my supervisor produced several brochures and pamphlets, some of which were distributed to Harris Sherman, USDA Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment during his trip to the Harris River Watershed Celebration on Prince of Wales island. All of my raw materials have been put into the Sitka Conservation Society's library for future work so the work that I completed during this internship contributes to ongoing efforts to protect salmon and therefore the Southeast Alaskan way of life.