Something came up at the North Pacific Fishery Management Council meeting, which ended today, that really hooked me.
It was a discussion of an emerging national system of "marine protected areas," or MPAs.
This effort began with an executive order President Clinton signed in 2000.
An initial list already has been developed, and it shows Alaska has four MPA sites:
• Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge
• Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
• Glacier Bay National Park
• Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge
Now, federal officials are conducting a nomination process to add potentially many more sites to the list.
To some observers, of course, this is something long overdue to protect the pearls of our seas, just as we protect our redwoods, grand canyons and smoky mountains on land.
But people involved in marine industries such as commercial fishing appear to have good reason to be "afraid" of the MPA nomination process, as one fleet representative candidly told the council.
And why is that?
Because the executive order says federal agencies regulating activities in protected areas "shall avoid harm to the natural and cultural resources that are protected by an MPA."
Much uncertainty exists over just what "avoid harm" means. Could the council, in establishing new MPAs, meet this standard and still allow fishing?
"Quite simply, we don't know," a council staffer wrote in this discussion paper.
If the council and the National Marine Fisheries Service, the agency that regulates ocean fisheries, fail to explain how fishing meets the "avoid harm" standard in new MPAs, they might "find themselves targets of bad press or advocacy campaigns that generate enormous public pressure to take action," the discussion paper says.
The council now has choices.
It can elect to simply not recommend any more sites around Alaska for listing on the national MPA list. Or the council can offer some or all of the many sites it already has protected such as coral gardens, the Sitka Pinnacles and Steller sea lion rookeries.
Seafood industry players reckon that nominating no more MPAs really isn't an option; the Obama administration could just pick more Alaska sites.
So it looks like we'll be listing more MPAs.
How many more?
The council discussion paper identifies 251 eligible sites.
All told, these encompass 988,817 square nautical miles, or about 97 percent of the Alaska Exclusive Economic Zone.
Like I said, this issue really hooked me. You?