Adak seeks fishing zone

Posted: Wednesday, March 22, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The Aleut Corp. wants the state Board of Fisheries to close off a 160-mile swath of the western Aleutians to large fishing vessels. The proposal is an effort to turn the one-time Navy base at Adak into a fishing town.

Restricting fishing is the best way to nurture development of a resident, small-boat fishing fleet, backers of the proposal say.

But the operators of the predominantly Seattle-based big-boat fleet are opposed to the idea. They say they rely on the area for significant catches of cod, sole and Atka mackerel.

The Board of Fisheries is meeting in Anchorge and could decide on the request by the end of the week.

Clem Tillion, former state legislator and ''fish czar'' under former Gov. Wally Hickel, is representing the Aleut Corp., the Native regional corporation that's inheriting the island from the Navy.

For the Adak concept to work, boats longer than 60 feet must be kept out, Tillion said.

''We don't want a Dutch Harbor boom-and-bust economy,'' said Tillion, referring to the main Bering Sea fishing hub farther east in the Aleutians. ''We want a resident, small-boat fleet that fishes year-round.''

Adak was home to the Adak Naval Air Station, a Cold War outpost that shut down in the late 1990s. In addition to an airport, school and 1,000 housing units on paved streets, the island has a large port and power plant.

The island and the territory around it were off-limits for decades to fishermen and all civilians.

Big-boat commercial fishermen argue there's no biological reason to shut them out of a huge zone on either side of Adak for much of the year, as the Aleut Corp. has proposed. The proposal would apply only to waters under state jurisdiction -- that is, up to three miles offshore. But the fishermen complain that's where all the fish are.

Beyond the fisheries closure, Adak is petitioning the state for incorporation as a second-class city. So far, the state doesn't like the idea.

A preliminary report by the Alaska Department of Community and Economic Development said the island's population has gone from 6,000 people during the Navy days to only about 100 now, a drop that is ''tantamount to abandonment of the community.''

The report questioned whether even those 100 will stay, noting that many are working for Navy contractors or transient employees of the fish plant.

Maintaining Adak will cost millions, and the island needs a serious environmental cleanup. If the city failed, the state would have to take over.

''The ultimate effect could be to saddle the state of Alaska with liability for a ghost town located on a Superfund site,'' the report said.

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