Econ 919 — Clean harbors

Oct 16, 2021

Credit Photo: Sabine Poux/KDLL

There's a lot that needs to come off a boat when it docks. And it’s not uncommon that some of that waste ends up in the ocean instead of the trash.

Bristol Bay fisherman Tav Ammu wants to gather more data on how clean Alaska’s harbors are and how the people who use them think about harbor cleanliness. He’s interviewing and surveying harbor users for an Alaska SeaGrant project and is basing his study in Ninilchik.


“I kind of had this idea of what it was like before I started this fellowship,” he said.  “But I think that it might be more of an issue than I originally thought it was.”

Alaska keeps tabs on some of its harbors through the Alaska Clean Harbors Program. Seward and Homer are both designated Clean Harbors.

Homer Harbormaster Bryan Hawkins remembers when the program first came to Alaska. He said it was an adaptation of a Lower 48 program called Clean Marinas.

“We put an Alaska spin on it because we’re very much commercial,” he said. “Our harbors are very commercial. And we realized that it’s not an overnight change. It’s a consistent approach toward responsible stewardship.”

Homer was the first harbor to become certified, in 2010.

The conditions of harbors impact more than just the fishermen and commercial operators who use them. Harbors like Ninilchik back up right into town.

But Hawkins said clean harbors are important for ecological reasons, as well.

“I don’t think it’s about clean harbors,” he said. “It’s about clean oceans. And harbors are your gateway.”

The Clean Harbor Program is optional. Only five of the state’s 90 harbors have opted in, Ammu said.

Ninilchik is not one of them and there’s no harbor master there. Ammu said the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation received a complaint about the harbor being dirty, which is in part why he’s focusing his study there.

He's also been conducting interivews in Dillingham. Pending approval from the Department of Transportation, he'll be working with students from both Dillingham and Ninilchik to design signs for those areas, based on the prompt, "What clean harbors mean to me."

"And then we have a competition, and the winning student has their sign turned into a permanent sign that’s placed down at the harbor — in the hopes of reminding people that polluting is bad and that trashing their area does have significant impacts," Ammu said.

While he’s focusing on Ninilchik and Dillingham, Ammu is inviting all boat and harbor users across Alaska to respond to a clean harbor survey.

“Having people who are in the communities kind of verbalize what are the major issues — are there major issues and what are they stemming from, what do they see — helps us kind of localize our attention to those issues in those areas," he said.

In the end, Ammu wants to use his findings to draw up a report and help communities come up with localized solutions. 

“Highlighting areas where we could improve I think would be a good thing,” he said. “Especially when it comes to conservation or sustainability issues. And pollution in a harbor is a small piece of the puzzle. But it is a piece.”

Boat users can take Ammu’s survey here. Non-boat users can take the survey here.