Opinion: Fight for our lives in King Cove

I have always appreciated the wisdom of these words: If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach a man to fish, you feed him for life. I am a fisherman; One of my grandfathers was a fisherman and the other was a lifelong employee of Peter Pan Seafood. My father was a fisherman, my brother is a fisherman, and my mother worked for Peter Pan for most of her working life. We live in the southwest Aleutian community of King Cove. For my extended family and all other families like mine, we rely on our knowledge of the ocean, our skills in harvesting fish, and a fish processor who pays a fair price. At the end of each day, we enjoy the fruits of our hard work.

We relate to water the way a farmer relates to his soil when he runs his hand through it. It is our place of work, but also a place of respect; It’s our livelihood, yes, but it’s also tied to our identity. We feel the spirit of our ancestors on deck with us as we leave the safe harbor on the open sea. Water demands respect and never lets you take it or it will pay the price. This is the world as it should be.

Similarly, seafood is more than our currency, it is the foundation of our diet, it connects us to our Aleutian past, and it anchors us in the present. King Cove has been a seafood processor since 1911 and, for the past 50 years, a year-round fishery. It’s crab in the fall and winter, salmon in the summer, and bottom fish all year round. We pride ourselves on having such a high caliber of sustainable practices that not only are our seafood products praised around the world, we generously entrust the ocean to our children so they too can live on the water and give back to this place we call. at home. The world when it makes sense.

Before.

As the mayor of King Cove, it pains me to say that it only took a few months for me to recognize my world. Events have conspired against our existence. The collapse of our revenues, individually and across the city, the shock of knowing that municipal projects that have been in the works for many years could be put on hold. A whip of cold fear blowing through our city streets these days as our elderly residents believe that for the first time in 50 years there won’t be a year-round fishing season or a functioning processing plant with all its employees. And the commerce and support systems that exist to support a business of this size, not to mention the tax revenue the city assumed its budget was safely built on. And while we might get through this terrible year knowing a plant buyer was on the horizon, the hardest hit is the heart-stopping realization that one more year like this and we’ll be on a downward spiral.

Peter Pan Seafoods didn’t pay many of our fishermen for last year’s catch, they didn’t wait until the last minute to tell us they wouldn’t be open for the 2023-2024 winter fishery. Then at the last minute, the local crew and the city were not given time to prepare, they told us the unthinkable; They won’t work during our summer salmon season either. Before we could even process the sound of the door closing, we learned that the factory would be closing, possibly forever, and that they were nearly $100 million in debt.

The financial consequences are devastating. Our city’s general fund annual revenue budget is approximately $3 million, with approximately 70% of that amount coming from local and state fish taxes and our city’s sales tax on boat fuel and retail sales to support King Cove’s fishing fleets.

We are doing what we can to stabilize our budget by drawing on our modest savings, using anticipated crab disaster funds from the disastrous 2021-23 crab season, and finding ways to reduce our general fund costs. However, these numbers represent people I know, and it’s another blow to a city that’s already broken.

Please don’t report to the faint of heart. Just like farmers at the mercy of their weather, we’ve had droughts before, fish prices or volumes have been very low before, events have affected us and all the other challenges have shaped our lives. But it’s a triple whammy: it’s an immediate drain on our savings account, there’s no reason at this point to believe that next year will be any better, and we risk losing valuable momentum on many projects, projects that made all kinds of sense when we thought our town was going to be fishy. It would be a powerful recycling operation.

• After more than 10 years of engineering and permitting, we have 60% of the funding needed for our new solid waste facility using air curtain incinerator technology to incinerate up to 90% of the community’s waste stream. We designed this $7 million facility, in part, to house the large industrial and residential waste generated by the plant, which averages more than 500 transient workers per year; These workers are now gone.

• We have federal funds available to upgrade and expand our groundwater wells and distribution systems. The primary impetus for this project was to expand our municipal water system to serve the water needs of us and Peter Pan Seafood for hundreds of millions of gallons of water each year.

• Last but certainly not least, we have bragging rights for two successful hydroelectric plants that produce more than 80% of the energy we need. Over the years, we’ve been having increasingly serious discussions with Peter Pan about how to sell them our surplus power. The engineering is almost done on how to connect our network to theirs and how ironic it is at a time when their factory is now completely closed. Our best hope now is that it will tempt the new owner.

I walk the paths of my town and realize a terrible truth: in no time, a strong fishing community that dates back to 1911 may become a ghost town. Our self-sufficient ways may not be enough this time. However, I also know that if it weren’t for our brutality, we would never have made it this far. For now, I take solace in the collective passion we have for this place and our determination to once again be fishermen with an economic future. We will do our part and hope that others will step forward. After all, home isn’t just where the heart is—home is where the world makes sense.

Warren Wilson is the mayor of King Cove.

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