The Petersburg Borough Assembly approved Resolution 2013-11, a resolution requesting support from the Alaska Legislature of the Sealaska Heritage Institute's sustainable arts project re-introducing skin sewing to produce and market sea otter handicrafts during its regular meeting Monday evening.
“This resolution is just part of a building block that we would like to establish with the governor and the legislature back in Washington, D.C. and eventually with our own legislature that we do have a sea otter issue,” Petersburg Assembly Member Kurt Wohlheuter said. “We do have another resolution with a little more teeth that will be the second building block. I'm afraid we will have to build a whole wall before anything will get done.”
Resolution 2013-11 states that the sea otter populations continue to grow significantly, exceeding 25,000 in Southeast Alaska and with proper management the sea otter population in the area can be utilized as a sustainable resource. In a conservation scenario, the Potential Biological Removal, PBR, the level which can be harvested, for sea otters in Southeast is 2,177. The harvest of sea otters in 2012 was 864 well below the PBR.
Sealaska Heritage Institute received a small three year grant from the State of Alaska Operating Budget to develop a cottage industry of artisans working with sea otter fur in Southeast communities.
Section 101(b) was included in the Marine Mammal Protection Act to exempt coastal Indians, Aleuts and Eskimos from prohibition for subsistence and handicraft purposes and the indigenous residents of coastal communities have shared a close relationship with marine mammals for over 10,000 years as an essential element of the diet, social fabric, economy and cultural well-being.
The production of sea otter into handicraft garments or art, whether traditional or contemporary, significantly altered or not, can be a significant revenue source for Alaska Natives who live in economically depressed communities.
Sealaska Heritage Institute's Sustainable Arts project provides an immediate and tangible way to deal with the growing sea otter populations by re-introducing the art of skin sewing to the user population.