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Municipalities, Subsistence Hunters Join Forces to Establish Arctic Waterway Safety Committee

Three Arctic municipalities are joining forces with maritime stakeholders to establish a new group focused on safety in Arctic waters.

The Arctic Waterway Safety Committee is billed as a “group focused on creating best practices to ensure a safe, efficient, and predictable … environment for all users of the arctic waterways.”

Committee members include leaders of several northwest Alaska communities, including Northwest Arctic Borough Mayor Reggie Joule, City of Nome Mayor Denise Michels and North Slope Borough Mayor Charlotte Brower.

Other stakeholders include representatives from regional subsistence hunting groups — like the Eskimo Walrus Commission and the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission — as well as tribal governments, the oil and gas industry, and maritime pilots.

Northwest Arctic Borough Mayor Reggie Joule said the new committee would allow all Arctic stakeholders a “voice at the table” — strengthening communication between local stakeholders and marine industry members. He said the committee will be a forum for dialogue that transcends political and tribal boundaries, just as the Arctic spans many borders.

“A lot of this is to shore up communications,” said Joule. “It’s being driven, though — not by industry or NGOs — but by the people who live on those coastlines, in those waterways.”

In a written statement, the North Slope mayor’s office said the committee will engage “the marine industry in developing best practices for safe vessel operations in the Arctic.” Committee members will also use local knowledge to alert mariners “when vessels would interfere with subsistence hunting activities, environmentally sensitive areas to be avoided, and patterns of ice movement.”

While the committee’s lasting role in any national or international policy decisions has yet to be determined, Joule said he’s hopeful that a formal body like the committee will lend weight to the voices of regional stakeholders.