NPFMC Jumps Into Pebble Mine Discussion, State Objects

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council is weighing into the debate over the proposed Pebble mine in Southwest Alaska, prompting objections from the state of Alaska.

During its meeting in Sitka this past week the council reviewed a letter it plans to send to the US Army Corps of Engineers, noting that the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Act calls for federal agencies to consider the potential impacts of developments on essential fish habitat, and to consult with NOAA Fisheries to identify actions to avoid or mitigate such impacts.

The council’s letter says that the council understands that the USACE is working with NOAA Fisheries to schedule the assessment of potential impacts to essential fish habitat, including cumulative impacts. The letter asks that the Corps schedule the assessment to coincide with a NPFMC meeting, and that the council’s December 2019 meeting would be an opportune time for the council to review and comment on that assessment.

Public radio journalist Robert Woolsey, news director of KCAW in Sitka, covered that session of the council meeting on June 5 and reported that Deputy Commissioner of Fish and Game Rachel Baker entered the state’s formal opposition to the letter. Baker argued that comments in the council’s letter went “beyond the scope of the council’s role and responsibilities.” The state, said Baker, “recommends the council maintain focus on priority management issues for fisheries in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands and the Gulf of Alaska.”

Wooley also noted that some harvesters attending the meeting used the opportunity of public testimony to support the council’s decision to comment on the proposed mine.
Veteran Bering Sea crabber Cheston Clark said in testimony that he is concerned about the proposed mine, particularly the unknown impact “if – or more likely when – a catastrophic mine tailing dam fails.”

Molly Blakey, a partner with her husband Ben in Northline Seafoods in Sitka, said she read the council’s draft letter and hopes it is sent. “Our livelihood, she told the council, “is processing Bristol Bay sockeye salmon.”

The council took no immediate action on the letter.