REPORT TITLE: A Description of the Socioeconomic and Sociocultural Systems of the Aleutian-Pribilof
STUDY TITLE: Aleutian/Pribilof Islands Socioeconomic and Sociocultural Systems Update.
CONTRACT NUMBER(S): MMS: 14-12-0001-30229
SPONSORING OCS REGION: Alaska.
APPLICABLE PLANNING AREA(S): St. George Basin.
FISCAL YEAR(S) OF PROJECT FUNDING: 1985.
COMPLETION DATE OF REPORT: April 1986.
COST(S): FY 1985: $143,829; CUMULATIVE PROJECT COST: $143,829.
PROJECT MANAGER(S): S. Braund.
AFFILIATION: Stephen R. Braund & Associates.
ADDRESS: P.O. Box 1480, Anchorage, Alaska 99510.
PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR(S)*: S. Braund, P. Burden, D. Burnham, L. Hale, C. Kirkwood, J. Kohler, S.
McNabb, L. Moorehead.
KEY WORDS: St. George Basin; Aleutian Islands; Pribilof Islands; Akutan; St. Paul; St. George; Alaska;
cultural resources; literature review; interviews; commercial fishing; subsistence; seals; harvest
disruptions; transportation; employment; subsistence; Alaska Region.
ACCESS NUMBER: 30229
BACKGROUND: An understanding of changes and trends in the communities of Akutan, St. Paul, and St.
George was necessary to assist in the analysis of potential impacts arising from proposed oil and gas
activities (i.e., Lease Sale 101) on the St. George Basin Outer Continental Shelf (OCS).
OBJECTIVES: (1) To identify the socioeconomic and sociocultural systems sensitive to change resulting
from OCS oil and gas exploration, development, and production activities; (2) To describe the social,
cultural, and economic systems active at the community level in the communities of Akutan, St. Paul, and
St. George; (3) To collect and analyze current data on socioeconomic conditions existing at the regional
level; and (4) To describe the sociocultural context within which the local and regional socioeconomic
DESCRIPTION: Literature reviews were conducted to obtain existing information on the study area for
commercial fishing and processing; for private and public sector economies; for sociocultural systems of
the Pribilof Islands; and for land use, housing, and community facilities. Previous studies sponsored by
the Minerals Management Service were reviewed for information on subsistence and household
economies; transportation, infrastructure, and governance issues; and OCS effects at the regional level.
Data were also gathered from organizations and institutions active in the region. Field investigations
were conducted which involved systematic informal interviews with knowledgeable individuals in each of
the communities. The field work required visitation over a seven-day period in Akutan and three days on
St. George. A total of 17 man-days was required on St. Paul Island. Visitation to Seattle to collect data
on the processing sector of the commercial fishing industry was also completed.
SIGNIFICANT CONCLUSIONS: The economy of the Aleutian/Pribilof Islands region is based upon
commercial fishing and processing. Fishermen from outside this region control these industries, resulting
in a majority of the wealth derived from area resources leaving the region. The recent formation of
traditional councils, village corporations, and municipal governments has created greater local political and
economic control. Employment opportunities have broadened in construction, administration and service
delivery, and fishing. Harbor development is the next step to building a local economy which is
competitive with non-local fishermen and which allows traditional ties to the resource base. The cultural
importance of subsistence activities has remained high in order to counteract the instability of income
sources and increases in household expenses. Most households rely on cash income for their
subsistence equipment and to meet household needs. The economic, social, and political systems of
Akutan have undergone extensive changes over the past 15 years. The traditional council, as the
dominant political structure, was replaced by a city government and the village corporation. Closure of
the king crab fishery resulted in a significant decline in the city's tax revenues and fishing-related
employment for residents. Whereas residents relied on processing in past decades, jobs created by the
city and the village corporation are now preferred, as are crew positions on crab and salmon boats. A
few residents with skiffs harvest the majority of subsistence foods which are shared within the community.
The town remains a highly informal, kin-oriented community. St. Paul and St. George were, until 1983,
largely controlled by the Federal government in the course of operating the fur seal harvest. Upon
termination of the seal harvest, local organizations (i.e., cities, Indian Reorganization Act [IRA] councils,
village corporations, and school districts) assumed responsibility for local affairs and developed an
independent economy. Funds dedicated to this transition are being used to develop commercial fishing,
marine support services, tourism, and oil and gas industries. Resident employment levels have been
high. An oil and gas support base on St. Paul has had minimal negative impact and a base on St.
George had positive effects in its first year. Sealing, reduced to a subsistence level, remains an
important local tradition.
STUDY RESULTS: The regional economy is dominated by local, State, and Federal governments and fish
processing sectors. These components comprise approximately 75% of all employment and wages in
the region. The population base (7,768 people in the 1980 census) is predominantly white (61.4%) and
male (62.8%), although Native Americans dominate in the smaller communities. The processing industry
provides a major source of tax revenue and employment in Akutan. Changes in this industry will
immediately affect the community. Due to expected drops in State and Federal funds, employment is
expected to decline for part-time and seasonal jobs. This will lead to either increased subsistence
activities; increases in need for public assistance funds; migration from Akutan to seek employment; or
seeking employment at local processing plants. Land owners in Akutan include the Federal government
(National Wildlife Refuges), the Russian Orthodox Church, State of Alaska, Akutan Corporation, City of
Akutan, and private individuals. Akutan is investigating the possibility of becoming its own coastal
resource district to have greater input into fishery activities, oil and gas lease sales, and other
development in the area. The social organization of the community is very informal, with the family being
predominant. The formation of the Akutan Corporation, incorporation as a second class city, and
availability of State funds for capital improvements opened up more diverse economic options.
Subsistence foods probably provide over half the protein needs of the community and these activities form
an essential part of the domestic economic strategy of the residents. Residents favor local control over
development and have therefore concentrated more power in younger, more educated leaders than
previously when leadership was vested with traditional leaders. The residents believe in the value of
maintaining traditional ties to the sea. Future economic development for St. Paul will probably focus on
OCS support, fisheries, marine support services, and tourism. Development of St. Paul as a support
base for the oil industry and as a fish processing and harvesting industry will be priorities. The proposed
activities are similar to those proposed on St. George, leading to possible competition for limited
resources between the two communities. The major landowner on St. George is TDX, the local native
corporation. St. Paul populations remain isolated from mainland Alaska and other Aleut communities.
Nearly all residents are associated with the Russian Orthodox Church and the sealing profession, both
significant cultural institutions. Previously stable employment and income opportunities historically
provided by the National Marine Fisheries Service have been replaced by unstable seasonal and
temporary employment related to an economic boom. The community views self-employment in
commercial bottomfishing as a means of reestablishing long-term, stable employment. Commercial and
subsistence harvesting will continue to play an important role in the overall economic strategy. The City
of St. Paul, the St. Paul IRA Council, and TDX function independently of one another, differing on methods
to achieve socioeconomic goals and the role of outside business in developing and managing island
lands. The community's participation in the Pribilof Offshore Support Services development has helped
to determine how development should take place. The continued viability of the seal harvest, a traditional
community activity, is threatened by lack of control. The economy of St. George, like that on St. Paul,
has traditionally centered on the seal industry. With the seal harvesting decline, St. George created jobs
in the areas of fisheries, harbor support facilities, tourism, and OCS support. Future OCS activities would
provide a major stimulus to the local economy, even at low levels of activity. Tanaq, the village
corporation, is the major landowner on the island. The Russian Orthodox Church and the sealing
profession are pervasive sociocultural institutions. Income opportunities on St. George are unstable.
Subsistence activities continue to be an essential element of household economies with 10-50% of total
dietary protein derived from locally available foods including seal and halibut. An orientation towards
marine resources influences Pribilof Aleut values despite economic and social change on the island and a
history of continual disruption. St. George political entities are coordinated in their efforts to accomplish
economic development. St. George institutions have a pragmatic approach to development and
demonstrate a willingness to work with outside interests to achieve their objectives. St. Paul Island is the
center of oil and gas staging activities in the OCS region. An alternate landing facility for the industry is
located on St. George. As part of an agreement with the oil industry, St. George residents were provided
jobs during construction of facilities; the city received a fee and lease payments for the land; and a
physician's assistant staffs the St. George clinic, all benefits to St. George.
STUDY PRODUCT(S): Stephen R. Braund & Associates. 1986. A Description of the Socioeconomic
and Sociocultural Systems of the Aleutian-Pribilof Islands Region.
A final report for the U.S. Department of the Interior, Minerals Management Service Alaska OCS Region,
Anchorage, AK. NTIS No. PB87-204640. Social and Economic Studies Program Technical Report No.
118. MMS Report 86-0034. Contract No. 14-12-0001-30229. 491 pp.
*P.I.'s affiliation may be different than that listed for Project Manager(s).