EPA turns back on Bristol Bay

Meanwhile, thriving fisheries set new records

Jul 11, 2017

 

Salmon is a critical subsistence food. By scrapping protections, the EPA turns its back on Bristol Bay. Photo courtesy of Carl Johnson.

Salmon returned to Bristol Bay in force this month. Unfortunately, so did the push to put foreign mining interests before Alaska fish. By turning back on protections, the EPA turns its back on Bristol Bay and its communities.

Today, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it will be withdrawing protections that would safeguard the very Bristol Bay fisheries that produce the largest run of wild sockeye salmon in the world.

Alaskans and Americans have 90 days to tell the EPA to adopt, not withdraw, protections.

Mining in Bristol Bay would be catastrophic

The EPA’s July 2014 Clean Water Act Section 404(c) Proposed Determination provided protections based on its conclusion that even a small mine would be catastrophic to Bristol Bay. By scraping those proposed protections—along with the years of science and public input that went into them—the EPA is turning its back on Alaskans while pandering to a foreign mining company’s interests.

The Bristol Bay watershed supports some of the largest salmon runs in the world, along with thousands of jobs. Photo courtesy of Carl Johnson.

“It makes your blood boil,” said Myrtice Evalt, interim executive director of Nunamta Aulukestai, a coalition of Alaska Native Village Corporations and tribes in the Bristol Bay region.

“Everyone is out fishing,” she said. “We are all taking care of our livelihoods right now. livelihoods that Bristol Bay has supported for thousands of years, and now is when EPA announces plans to toss out the proposed protections? A dark cloud just rolled into Bristol Bay.”

Salmon is Bristol Bay’s gold

Northern Dynasty, the foreign conglomerate behind the proposed Pebble mine, keeps saying it will listen to the people of Bristol Bay. Then it shifts tactics to get what it wants, no matter who gets hurt. It has harassed people who oppose it. It has created handpicked panels to make false claims of local support. It made a backroom deal with the EPA.

Now, the backroom deal it made means that the agency meant to protect our water and fish has shrugged off Bristol Bay.

Photo courtesy EPA.

“This is terrible,” said Robin Samuelson, a board member with Nunamta Aulukestai. “This is a record salmon season. We have our own gold mine already. It’s called the sockeye salmon fishery of Bristol Bay, and we are currently working hard right now to harvest the record number of salmon coming into our region. For the federal government to throw all of this away for the benefit of a foreign mining company is criminal.”

Here’s how a handful of groups responded to today’s EPA announcement:

Alaskans and Americans need to speak out for Bristol Bay

Alaskans and Americans have 90 days to comment before the EPA completes the process of removing the proposed determination and its protections.

The public submitted millions of comments over many years during the development of the EPA’s watershed assessment and the Proposed Determination. Many of the native communities in Bristol Bay asked the EPA to go through this process and impose protections for the region’s thriving salmon fisheries.

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