Bristol Bay Leaders Call On EPA To Protect The Region

Several Alaska conservation and local business groups’ leaders gathered today to plead with the Environmental Protection Agency to provide permanent protection mandates for Bristol Bay from projects such as the Pebble Mine. Here’s some reaction:

DILLINGHAM, AK –Bristol Bay leaders again called on the EPA to immediately begin work on Clean Water Act protections for the watershed as the annual return of wild salmon begins anew with no assurance that this life-sustaining resource will remain for future generations.
Pebble remains a looming threat as salmon begin returning to Bristol Bay. There is currently no assurance that the foreign mining company will not try again to build their toxic mine at the headwaters of the fishery. In fact, the company is still actively seeking to do so.

The people of Bristol Bay,  and those who depend on its world-class fishery, have lived with this uncertainty for more than two decades. EPA has the authority and the responsibility to take action now to provide safeguards that remove this threat and enable Bristol Bay to focus on a thriving future.Although the Pebble Limited Partnership’s federal permit was denied in late 2020, the denial is under an appeal and the denial does not stop Pebble from reapplying in the future or address the other mining claims like Pebble in our headwaters.

The Obama/Biden Administration created a strong policy to protect Bristol Bay based on science and concern for the needs of the region — and while that job was unfinished after Obama left office, the President’s visit to the region was a pivotal moment for the people of Bristol Bay, signaling hope that Bristol Bay would finally secure the protections the region had fought over a decade for. But now the region says the Biden administration needs to move from campaign promises to action and  pick up where the Obama/Biden EPA left off to finalize EPA protections for the Bristol Bay watershed. 

Since Bristol Bay Tribes, supported by commercial and sport fishermen, first requested EPA protections in 2010, more than 2.5 million public comments supporting permanent protections for the watershed have been submitted to the EPA during multiple comment periods. In recent months, tens of thousands of people have renewed their call to this Administration and EPA. And, over the last several months, lead by the communities of Bristol Bay, Tribes, conservation organizations, investors, and more have sent letters to the Biden Administration and EPA calling for long term protections. 
Today, Businesses for Bristol Bay sent a supporting letter signed by over 200 national businesses including Whole Foods, Wegmans, HyVee, Publix, Sysco, Keen, Grundens, and Patagonia. All of these letters can be found in the link below. 

Bristol Bay Leaders & Experts Made the Following Statements:
Alannah Hurley – Executive Director, United Tribes of Bristol Bay
Today you’ve heard from Tribal, Native Corporate, commercial fishermen, scientific and economic development leaders of Bristol Bay united to protect our home, whose dedication has never faltered in the last two decades fighting to protect our lands and waters.  If there’s one thing I want you all leave here with today, it’s this:  the fight for Bristol bay is not over, Pebble remains a threat and the people of Bristol Bay are calling on the EPA to use their authority to start the 404(c) process by the end of this fishing season to put Pebble to rest for good. This will allow for Congressional protections on our watershed so it can continue to provide for generations to come”

Jason Metrokin – President and CEO, Bristol Bay Native Corporation 
“Bristol Bay Native Corporation is dedicated to its mission of enriching our Native way of life. Our shareholders’ opposition to the proposed Pebble mine is steadfast.  Our work to make sure Pebble does not go forward is far from over. More permanent measures are needed. Last month, our board of directors unanimously approved a two pronged strategy that supports both administrative action from the EPA for 404c restrictions on efforts to mine the Pebble deposit, as well as legislative action in conjunction with our congressional delegation that would protect important salmon habitat in Bristol Bay and bring new economic opportunities to the region, and its residents.
We will work on all fronts, with both state and federal leaders to strengthen the region. We stand united with the other Bristol Bay leadership groups pursuing these additional administrative and legislative measures.”

Fritz Johnson – Vice President, Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association
“Habitat protection is consistently at the top of our priorities as reflected by our many fishermen. I shouldn’t have to belabor the risk posed by Pebble, but indulge me for a moment. Alaskan salmon fisheries are world famous for their abundance and the sustainability of and statehood.  Bristol Bay is literally the crown jewel of wild salmon fisheries, producing more than a half a wild sockeye salmon in the world, and roughly half of Alaska segment value in recent years, the fishery produces more than $2 billion in annual economic activity, creates 15,000 jobs, and is the foundation of the subsistence economy dating back since before recorded history.
There is more to protect today and more to lose, in Bristol bay than ever before. Our membership supports whatever mechanisms can be crafted for permanent protection for Bristol Bay, and applaud the efforts of Senator Murkowski in reaching out to stakeholders in the watershed to establish long-term, permanent protection for the last great wild salmon rearing system on the planet.”

Nanci Morris Lyon – Owner, Bear Trail Lodge
“Most anglers and hunters visiting Alaska are well traveled and have seen and visited hunting and fishing habitat all over the world. They know and recognize places that are both unique and special, they return time after time, not only for the magnificent animals that they originally came for, but also for the peace and beauty they can experience through Bristol Bay is clean, clear crystal freshwater,  the healthy air, the lush abundant habitat.
I’ve been in this business for 36 years, I have invested my heart, my soul and my future and the Bristol Bay, and I now have a daughter who wants to follow in my footsteps. She’s never not known, the fight with Pebble. It’s always been a part of her life. I can’t rest until I know this mining threat is over. I can’t leave her a legacy of constantly fighting for protection or trying to continue to run a fishing lodge in a polluted environment. We need protections put in place immediately to secure the short term safety of the area, as well as permanent long term protections to guarantee the area’s preservation for generations to come.”

Dr. Daniel Schindler – UW School of Aquatic and Fishery Science 
“When we talk about the scientific assessment of potential risks to fish and fish habitat. We need to appreciate that we’re talking about long term effects or legacy effects, many of the effects of mines won’t be expressed for decades or even centuries into the future. So the people you’re hearing from today are not asking for protection for themselves or their own livelihood to their own jobs, they’re asking for protections of these watersheds for their grandkids and great grandkids and further down the road. 
Hopefully we have certainly learned that destroying habitat or putting habitat at risk is a losing game when you start talking about water quality and the fisheries that they support.I think everyone recognizes that political decisions are difficult and difficult decisions need to be made. I think my parting comment is that the science behind assessing risks of mines like Pebble Mine and Bristol Bay are absolutely crystal clear and should make decision making easier. There is no debate in the scientific community about the list of risks that mines like Pebble Mine will represent to water quality to watersheds to salmon, and to people’s economies, livelihoods and cultures.”

Robin Samuelsen – Chairman, Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation 
“The region is united.  Alaska is united. The United States, united. We must protect Bristol Bay at all costs. We must start the 404 c process. That is the first step to protecting the habitat of Bristol Bay. Our governors, our senators, our representatives need to recognize the uniqueness of Bristol Bay. They need to step forward and create a clear process that will protect Bristol Bay.  Our congressional delegation and our President have come out against pebble. Well, don’t tell me you oppose Pebble. Come on! 
Show me action as the President of the United States. Show me action as Congress. Show me action that you’re going to protect Bristol Bay. Not for me, not for you, but for future generations. I want to thank the people every single day for standing united. We will win this battle. It’s not over. But we will win this battle by standing united.”

Bristol Bay Native Corporation is a responsible Alaska Native investment corporation dedicated to the mission of “Enriching Our Native Way of Life.” Established through the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971, BBNC works to protect the land in Bristol Bay, celebrate the legacy of its people, and enhance the lives of its shareholders.
Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation represents 17 CDQ communities & exists to promote economic growth and opportunities for Bristol Bay residents through sustainable use of the Bering Sea fisheries.
Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association is a trade group representing over 8,000 commercial Bristol Bay salmon fishermen who hail from Alaska and 47 other U.S. states. Bristol Bay is home to the world’s largest wild salmon fishery. 
Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay is a national coalition of fishermen working to protect Bristol Bay, Alaska.
United Tribes of Bristol Bay is a tribal consortium representing 15 Bristol Bay tribal governments (that represent over 80 percent of the region’s total population) working to protect the Yup’ik, Dena’ina, and Alutiiq way of life in Bristol Bay.