Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay asked the White House today for a swift release of the Environmental Protection Agency’s updated draft watershed assessment of Bristol Bay. The group, which is supported by more than 100 commercial fishing organizations and businesses in Alaska and nationwide, said releasing the updated draft by March 19 will ensure that commercial fishermen from Bristol Bay and around the country have ample opportunity to comment and participate in the process before fishing season begins in late spring.
The final watershed assessment stands to play a critical role in whether a large copper, gold and molybdenum mine is constructed at the headwaters of Bristol Bay.
Fishermen, biologists and environmental organizations and other businesses nationwide are opposing construction of the mine because of its potential for extremely adverse effects on the world renown wild Alaska sockeye salmon fishery in the bay, which is the cornerstone of the economy of Southwest Alaska.
Mine proponents, who have spent millions of dollars on exploration and studies in the area, contend that they can develop and operate the mine in a manner that is safe for the fishery.
In a letter addressed to President Obama, Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay said that the original Bristol Bay watershed assessment public comment period garnered over 225,000 responses in a 60-day period, with over 95 percent of the comments in support of the watershed assessment and EPA action to protect the fishery.
“To guarantee that Bristol Bay fishermen, as well as interested citizens from across the country, have the opportunity to make their voices heard once again on the issue, we urge the EPA to conclude its peer review and release the updated draft watershed assessment by March 19th,” the letter said. “This will ensure that fishermen will be able to comment on the EPA’s work, and will keep the final assessment on track for an early-summer release.”
Bob Waldrop, executive director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, said the group feels the EPA’s decision to conduct a second peer review and public comment is redundant and unnecessary, and it is now incumbent upon the White House and the EPA to ensure that the people most directly impacted by the proposed Pebble Mine are given ample opportunity to comment on its updated draft watershed assessment.