Federal maritime officials have denied a nomination to create an Aleutian Islands National Marine Sanctuary submitted by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and several environmental organizations. The proposed sanctuary would have encompassed all federal waters along the entire Aleutian Islands archipelago to the Alaska mainland, including federal waters off of the Pribilof Islands and Bristol Bay, an area of about 554,000 square nautical miles.
The decision came from Daniel Basta, director of the Commerce Department’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, who said the proposal, as submitted, was not sufficient. Basta cited, among other reasons for the decision, a lack of support from community interests, including the Aleutians East Borough. Basta also noted that the nomination provided little to no description as to how this area would provide opportunities for education, such as specific partnerships and commitments from educational groups.
Basta did offer PEER alternatives, including considering nominating a smaller area or a series of smaller areas that encompass the specific resources believed to be of highest value for a possible national marine sanctuary designation.
In a letter to PEER spokesperson Rick Steiner of Anchorage, Basta advised Steiner to keep in mind that the nomination process is a community based process and demonstration of wide community support weighs very heavily within the management considerations.
Earlier this month, the Aleutians East Borough Assembly passed unanimously a resolution opposing nomination of the area as a marine sanctuary. A resolution opposing designation of the area as a marine sanctuary was introduced in the Alaska Legislature by Rep. Bryce Edgmon, D- Dillingham. In addition, Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, introduced legislation in Congress to prohibit he Secretary of Commerce from designating a new marine sanctuary in Alaska.