By June Allen
February 11, 2006
This is another instance of a non-Native bureaucracy, this time the U.S. Forest Service, taking oversight of ooligan -- which is as much a Native tradition and celebration as a fishery. It would be a much better world if the agencies involved (federal Forest Service and state Fish & Game) created an all-Native fisheries branch of their enforcement offices.
Very, very few non-Natives ever eat ooligan anyway! Alaska's Southeastern Natives who do are certainly not out to destroy the species of these oily little fish that are part not only of their heritage but a legendary part of their very existence! The fish historically strengthened and occasionally saved from starvation their winter-depleted bodies; the ooligan grease even today is used as medication as well as a valuable dietary supplement. The little silver fish is also the menu for a grateful springtime feast, heads and tails and all! Natives say it is the one time of year that they know all the others are also eating ooligan.
Our traditional ooligan fishermen are cool and fatalistic about their fishery. They expect it "about the time they see the first robin." Some years they miss the date altogether -- the spawn is quick and routinely unpredictable. The tradtional fishermen (usually one or two, rarely three) don't gnash their teeth and write letters to the editor when they miss the spawn -- they take it in stride.
When there is a bumper crop, they do not waste a single morsel! That little silver fish was part of their historical survival into modern times. Many times the ooligan made the difference between life and death after a long bitter winter. In bumper-crop years, it meant a little profitable trade.
Agencies are always big on "studies." I hope they will take the time to launch an informal study of what and how Native Alaskans feel about their ooligan.
What they don't need (my opinion
here) is a sandwich of layers of agency oversight.
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Sitnews.