Harvesters Ramping Up Effort to Protect Bristol Bay

Bristol Bay fishermen heading for the grounds and those already delivering fish say they are waiting for Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, to deliver on her promise to not trade one resource for another.

The statement from Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay on June 24 says for many engaged in the Bristol Bay fishery, this winter was anything but restful. Instead they were fighting to save their livelihoods.

“At this point Bristol Bay fishermen and Alaskans, who still overwhelmingly oppose Pebble, are looking to Sen. Lisa Murkowski to deliver on her longtime promise of ensuring a permitting process that protects the interests of Alaskans and does not trade one resource for another” said Alexus Kwachka, from his boat F/V No Point on the opening day of the fishery at Naknek.

United Fishermen of Alaska has called on Murkowski to halt the process of the draft environmental impact statement for the proposed copper, gold and molybdenum mine adjacent to the Bristol Bay watershed. Murkowski responded that she would “continue to carefully watch as the Pebble (project) undergoes a measured, fully inclusive and transparent permitting process.”

Veteran commercial salmon fisherman Mark Niver, who is also employed as a plant operator for BP Alaska, said such statements from Murkowski and other members of the Alaska congressional delegation are far from reassuring. Niver points to recent letters from The American Fisheries Society, The North Pacific Fishery Management Council, and University of Washington fisheries researcher Daniel Schindler, all of them critical of the US Army Corps of Engineers’ draft environmental impact statement.

The American Fisheries Society sent a letter to the Corps stating that based on its review of the DEIS, they found it fails to meet basic standards of scientific rigor in a region that clearly demands the highest level of scrutiny and thoroughness.

The NPFMC letter told the Corps in its letter that any analysis that considers development of a large scale mine in the area must also consider reasonably foreseeable future actions, including the potential impacts not only on fish populations and habitat, but also on both the value and reputation of North Pacific fisheries.
Schindler, who has spent years doing research on Bristol Bay fisheries, said the Pebble EIS “distinctly underestimates long-term risks to water, fish and people – it concludes there are none. The Army Corps of Engineers should be sent back to the drawing board to produce a credible assessment.”