For millennia, people in Southeast Alaska have relied on the sea for sustenance. But what happens when traditional foods could be deadly? That question was behind the founding of Sitka Tribe of Alaska’s Environmental Research Lab in 2016. The lab tests shellfish from 17 Southeast communities as well as tribes on Kodiak Island.
The state tests commercial shellfish for toxins. But Sitka Tribe Resource Protection Director Jeff Feldpausch says subsistence harvesters are left to fend for themselves.
“They don’t do any public testing or certifying any beaches in Alaska, like you see in Washington and other Lower 48 states,” he said.
Feldpausch says the state’s official message is simply not to eat the clams and mussels on the beach because of the risk of toxins.
“We just figured, you know, that’s not that’s not acceptable response,” Feldpausch said. “We started down this road with, I think, 15 other tribes in Southeast as far as looking at ways to address safe access to shellfish resources.”