Clayton Hamilton joins the Alaska Ocean Acidification Network this fall as part of the Alaska Marine Conservation Council’s Fishing Fellowship program. Clayton is based in Juneau and will be working with the network 5-10 hours a week over the next six months on outreach and fishing community engagement.
Q: Tell us about your background – how did you get interested in fishing and what role does it play in your life?
Despite a fairly sizeable detour in Iowa, I have always been interested in living on and with the ocean. Today fishing is what I do. It is a way to live with the ocean, a way to participate in the natural order. I love our Alaskan seasonal way of life. It suits me and keeps me healthy and happy. When I first came to Alaska it was with Americorps. I stayed and knew that I wanted to learn more about this place and ecosystem and so I worked with the Alaska Dept. of Fish & Game for a few years and got an AAS in Alaskan fisheries management and aquaculture from the University of Alaska Southeast. By this time, though, I had started fishing for cod in the winters, first in Kodiak and then in Southeast. More and more, the desire to spend more time on the water and to work for myself led me towards fishing which is now that I do full time. As I look towards the future I plan to keep fishing and to branch out into mariculture.
Q: How did ocean acidification emerge on your radar, and what makes you interested in the topic?
OA has been on my radar from the outset. What it actually means for fishing, fish and the ocean community, I’m not sure. This is a big part of my motivation to learn more for myself and to start speaking with the broader community about what OA will mean in the future. The ocean is going to get more acidic and that will have real impacts on landings and on the ecosystem as a whole. Only by understanding this phenomenon will we be able to cope with it.
Q: What’s your sense on how fishermen think about ocean acidification? Are your fishing colleagues aware of the issue? Is it something fishermen discuss?
The fishermen I have met here in Alaska are in tune with the world they live in. Fishermen are aware of the issues and often very well informed and connected, despite the somewhat isolated nature of the work and lifestyle. Ocean acidification can be a difficult issue to approach initially as pH is not a factor we are used to dealing with. That being said, Alaska fishermen are well-placed as advocates for ocean management and are leading the way when it comes to fighting for habitat in Alaska.
Q: How do you see fishermen playing a role in addressing the issue?
As a fisherman, I see amazing things every day and while my experience is pretty limited, I see the ocean changing day by day and season by season. We all do. Alaska small boat fishermen are deeply aware of their relationship to the natural world. Behind every successful conservation story I can think of were stakeholder advocates speaking out for the health of the resource and more commonly, the health of the ecosystem that sustained them. Fishermen are leading the fight for habitat protection in Alaska right now and with proper outreach can be mobilized to act on ocean acidification as well.
Q: What do you most hope to get out of your fellowship with the Alaska Ocean Acidification Network?
I am already enjoying all the fun and engaging people I am meeting.
I have all my eggs in the ocean basket. I am buying into Alaska salmon; I fish all year round and I’m working towards starting a mariculture company here in Juneau. My future is tied to the health of the Gulf of Alaska and that is why I am truly interested in what’s going on in the state to learn more about this phenomenon and then in turn to deal with it.