A new study produced by the Alaska Marine Conservation Council calls for establishing permanent protection from offshore drilling for oil and gas for Bristol Bay and the southeast Bering Sea. The document urges national policy makers to recognize potential economic, cultural and ecological impacts of offshore exploration in Bristol Bay and the southeast Bering Sea. Such impacts, says the study, vastly outweigh the possible benefits.
These waters, the report says, support the most productive commercial fisheries in Alaska and in the larger United States in terms of total pounds landed and overall economic value. In fact, as the nation’s “fish basket,” the region accounts for more than 40 percent of the total domestic fish catch by weight, the report said.
The harvests in these waters include salmon, an essential food source for Native Alaskan subsistence users, as well as groundfish, Pacific halibut and red king crab.
Many marine mammals as well as other wildlife are dependent on these fisheries also for food.
Oil spills, drilling discharges and seismic surveys also stand to have an adverse impact on the environment of Bristol Bay and the southeast Bering Sea. The powerful sound waves of seismic surveys can disrupt vital activities such as breeding, feeding and resting, and also reduce fish catch rates by more than 50 percent for several days as fish flee from areas where such surveys are in progress, the study said.
The study, which was funded mainly by a grant from the World Wildlife Fund, was conducted by AMCC with contributions from Thomas Van Pelt of Transboundary Ecologic LLC, the Wild Salmon Center and Audubon Alaska.