Bristol Bay Fishermen Urge Release of Watershed Assessment by March 19

Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay asked the White House
today for a swift release of the Environmental Protection Agency’s updated
draft watershed assessment of Bristol Bay. The group, which is supported by more
than 100 commercial fishing organizations and businesses in Alaska and
nationwide, said releasing the updated draft by March 19 will ensure that
commercial fishermen from Bristol Bay and around the country have ample
opportunity to comment and participate in the process before fishing season
begins in late spring.
The final watershed assessment stands to play a critical
role in whether a large copper, gold and molybdenum mine is constructed at the
headwaters of Bristol Bay.
Fishermen, biologists and environmental organizations and
other businesses nationwide are opposing construction of the mine because of
its potential for extremely adverse effects on the world renown wild Alaska
sockeye salmon fishery in the bay, which is the cornerstone of the economy of
Southwest Alaska.
Mine proponents, who have spent millions of dollars on
exploration and studies in the area, contend that they can develop and operate
the mine in a manner that is safe for the fishery.
In a letter addressed to President Obama, Commercial
Fishermen for Bristol Bay said that the original Bristol Bay watershed
assessment public comment period garnered over 225,000 responses in a 60-day
period, with over 95 percent of the comments in support of the watershed
assessment and EPA action to protect the fishery.
“To guarantee that Bristol Bay fishermen, as well as
interested citizens from across the country, have the opportunity to make their
voices heard once again on the issue, we urge the EPA to conclude its peer
review and release the updated draft watershed assessment by March 19th,” the
letter said. “This will ensure that fishermen will be able to comment on the
EPA’s work, and will keep the final assessment on track for an early-summer
Bob Waldrop, executive director of the Bristol Bay Regional
Seafood Development Association, said the group feels the EPA’s decision to
conduct a second peer review and public comment is redundant and unnecessary,
and it is now incumbent upon the White House and the EPA to ensure that the
people most directly impacted by the proposed Pebble Mine are given ample
opportunity to comment on its updated draft watershed assessment.