April 22 is Earth Day around the world - and since the event began in 1970, trash pickup has been a tradition.
Ocean debris in Alaska tells different stories than rest of U.S. 042209 BUSINESS 1 Capital City Weekly April 22 is Earth Day around the world - and since the event began in 1970, trash pickup has been a tradition.
Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Story last updated at 4/22/2009 - 10:59 am

Ocean debris in Alaska tells different stories than rest of U.S.
Fish Factor

April 22 is Earth Day around the world - and since the event began in 1970, trash pickup has been a tradition.

To provide a "global snapshot of the trash problem out on the water," the environmental group Ocean Conservancy organized an International Coastal Cleanup day last September. Nearly 400,000 volunteers scoured 33,000 miles of shoreline in 76 countries and in 45 U.S. states.

In all, they picked up 6 million pounds of trash in one day from world beaches, averaging 182 pounds of trash for every mile of shoreline. But the volume of the trash tells only part of the story. It's the items collected that show how ocean-goers have a general carelessness about what and where they toss their trash.

To document what is being dumped, the Conservancy cataloged all the trash into more than 7 million items. Fifty-seven percent of the trash (2 million items) was related to food wrappings and beverage containers, including cups, plates and plastic eating utensils; plus 1.2 million bottles and beverage cans. Thirty-three percent of the ocean trash came from smokers. Beach combers collected 2.3 million cigarette butts, filters and cigar tips, along with balloon bits and strings, tires, wires and building materials. Offshore divers also collected 160,000 pounds of similar debris. Just over 6 percent of the trash collected came from fishing gear or other "waterway activities."

Ocean debris in Alaska differs from other places, where 60 percent comes from land-based sources, like beach litter or urban storm drains, and 30 percent (again) coming from cigarette butts and other smoking related trash. Alaska debris is mostly fishing related - but not necessarily from Alaska fishing operations. Many of the nets picked up are scraps from old high seas drift nets and trawl nets used long ago by foreign vessels in the Bering Sea. There also are currents that bring over a lot of fishing debris from Asia.

Marine debris clean-up efforts reached a milestone in Alaska this year with more than one million pounds removed from the coastline. That's equivalent to filling four 747 cargo planes with beach trash. Since 2003, the Juneau-based Marine Conservation Alliance Foundation has organized more than a dozen clean-ups from the Panhandle to points far west.

One of the MCA Foundation's biggest projects was removing 100,000 pounds of trash off of St. Lawrence Island and 20,000 pounds off of Golovin, with crews from Gambell and Savoonga.

There are some good signs that the tide may be turning on trash. Nearly 80 percent of those surveyed in a recent Gallup Poll said they have made lifestyle changes to protect the environment.

AK2UK update

Alaskans met last week in London with directors of Anglo American, the developers of the Pebble Mine. The mine, located at the headwaters of Bristol Bay, would be the largest open pit gold and copper mine in North America.

The so called AK2UK group, which includes seven Native leaders and Bristol Bay sport and commercial fishermen, told the mining decision makers that they "have not heard the message that most Alaskans oppose the Pebble Mine."

The group believes they did get that message across, said Bobby Andrew of Nunamta Aulukestai (Caretakers of the Land).

Thomas Tilden, a Bristol Bay village spokesman, said that he didn't hear anything encouraging from Anglo American officials "except that Pebble permits are being put off for another year."

Tilden called the mining mega-corporation a "heartless soul' when it comes to dealing with human issues.

"As a board member, I know when I'm being pacified, and that's how I felt," he said.

Lydia Olympic said the meeting went well, but the Pebble backers keep saying "let's all work together." Olympic said that is not something most Alaskans are willing to do.

If the mine is developed, six major UK jewelers representing 260 stores announced they will not buy gold from Pebble. They join eight U.S. retailers who made the same pledge last year. Globally, jewelry accounts for about 68 percent of gold demand; 80 percent in the U.S.

One of the strongest supporters of the No Dirty Gold campaign is the world-famous Tiffany's. The Alaska group met with Tiffany's vice president, who proudly donned an ivory salmon carved by Everett Thompson of Naknek.

"This could cost them millions, or they could gain much more in return," Bobby Andrew said. "But they were willing and happy to do it. I was very, very impressed by Tiffany's."

The Alaska group said there is a lot of media interest in the Pebble Mine story. The UK is the #1 buyer of canned sockeye salmon, primarily from Bristol Bay. You can follow the London trip at

Fish Hall of Fame

Kodiak has cornered the fishing angle for Alaska's 50th anniversary of statehood celebrations. In fact, it was fish, primarily the state/federal fight for control of salmon, which spawned the push to statehood.

At a seafood extravaganza on Thursday, fisheries historian Bob King will provide a lively 50-year overview of the industry. The nation's largest fishing trade group - United Fishermen of Alaska - will reveal its first Hall of Fame list.

UFA director Mark Vinsel said the group modeled its selection process after the baseball hall of fame.

"We had a list of nearly 60 names submitted," Vinsel said. "So we compiled a nomination list and then voted. We ended up picking the top 20 vote getters. It's a remarkable list."

UFA will continue adding names each year to the seafood industry Hall of Fame, he added.

UFA also voted unanimously to present a lifetime achievement award to Senator Ted Stevens, who plans to attend the commemorative dinner.

"Without his work it's hard to imagine that our fisheries would even exist, and that the U.S. and especially Alaska would be a leader in sustainable fisheries," Vinsel said.

The 50th anniversary seafood celebration - which kicks off the annual Comfish trade show - is set for Thursday, April 23 at the US Coast Guard base in Kodiak. Tickets are limited and on sale only at

Fish Flash

Intrafish reports that Dennis Guhlke will take over in July as CEO of Icicle Seafoods, and that Don Giles is stepping down after 36 years with the company.

Laine Welch has been covering news of Alaska's seafood industry since 1988. She lives in Kodiak.