History

The Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association was designed to unify a variety of people, issues and goals.

The Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association began in 1979 with 150 fishermen from over 30 villages in western Alaska ranging from Bristol Bay to Kotzebue Sound. These fishermen united to become more involved in new fisheries that were developing in their backyard, and to build an organization that was concerned with helping local fishermen gain full economic benefits from existing local commercial fisheries.

From the beginning, the potential for development of the rich fishery resources along western Alaska has remained at the heart of BSFA’s mission. For decades, foreign fleets scooped up the fish and sailed away, while Alaska’s own fishermen were shut-out of these fisheries due to the lack of adequate venture capital, infrastructure, and local expertise.

The first goal of the Association was to assist herring fishermen so that they could become involved in the rapidly expanding Bering Sea Herring Fishery. The members of the board of directors which were elected at Bethel worked together throughout the fall in preparing for the Board of Fisheries meeting in December, 1979. The cooperation of these people from different regions resulted in the closure of most of the Bering Sea north of Togiak to the use of purse seines for herring fishing. This was a major victory for local village fishermen.

In January 1980, the BSFA established an office in Anchorage and hired staff to continue working to help Bering Sea fishermen.

The major goals of the Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association were:

  • Help Western Alaskan fishermen get started in the herring fishery.
  • Help take the opinions and ideas of western Alaskan fishermen to the State Legislature and to Congress.
  • Work with state and federal fisheries agencies to help local Bering Sea fishermen.
  • Help locate and develop sources of financial aid for Bering Sea fishermen.
  • Inform fishermen of new political, economic and technological developments which affect their livelihoods. This was done through weekly radio programs and through the “Bering Sea Fishermen” periodical.

BSFA was the first organization giving western Alaskan fishermen the opportunity for real influence.

BSFA also sought and received memberships from a number of organizations which supported the goals of the BSFA as an organizational member. The founding organizational members included: Bristol Bay Herring Marketing co-op, Nunam Kitlutsikti, Kawerak, Incorporated, and the NANA Regional Corporation.

The obstacles we’ve defeated as an agency have afforded us the opportunity to serve 192 communities and just over 125,000 residents.

Today BSFA is directed by a 14 member board made up of local fishermen from Bristol Bay, the Yukon/Kuskokwim delta, Norton Sound, Kotzebue and St. Paul.

A short list of successes in which BSFA played a significant role, includes:

  • Establishment of the Community Development Quota Program with Harold Sparck that launched six CDQ corporations with current combined revenues of over $300M.
  • Development of U.S. Coast Guard surveillance to guard against foreign high seas piracy activity in the Bering Sea.
  • Development of herring fisheries in western Alaska.
  • Development of commercial halibut fisheries for western Alaska through the International Pacific Halibut Commission.
  • Elimination of the high seas driftnet interception of western Alaskan salmon in the Bering Sea and North Pacific Ocean.
  • Founded various fisheries research and coordinating programs and non-profits including:
    • Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim Sustainable Salmon Initiative
    • Yukon River Drainage Fisheries Association
    • Norton Sound Salmon Research and Restoration Program
    • Bristol Bay Buy-back Coalition
    • Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim Tribal Consortium
  • Establishment of the king salmon saving areas in the Bering Sea and other salmon bycatch reduction measures.
  • Creation of the Alaska Board of Fish Regional Advisory Committees.
  • Construction of the Quinhagak fish processing plant; as well as cold storage facilities in Tununak, Mekoryuk, and Toksook Bay.