Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Dillingham Wants Protections in Place Before Bristol Bay Fishery Opens

Community leaders in the Nushagak area of the Bristol Bay wild salmon fishery say they want restrictions in place before the harvesting begins to keep residents safe from the novel coronavirus, which has reached pandemic strength.

A unified message from regional organizations based in Dillingham, Alaska, calls for all individuals arriving for the fishery to be transported directly from the airport to quarantine facilities, and to remain there until testing negative for COVID-19. The Bristol Bay Area Health Corporation is one of a number of rural health care providers who are to receive testing kits from Abbott Laboratories that can produce results within minutes. The testing machines are being provided to a number of rural areas of Alaska through the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium.

The protocols also call for the fishing industry to work with approved health care providers for employees and fishermen on pre-arrival and post-arrival screenings. Regional officials sent an email to all processors who will be operating in the Bristol Bay fishery advising them that first and foremost among their priorities are the health and public safety of their communities and all salmon industry participants.

Norm Van Vactor, of the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation, told the processors that the regional corporations would be continuing to evaluate information on the status of the pandemic in Alaska as it becomes available. Meanwhile, Dillingham Mayor Alice Ruby and First Chief of the Curyung Tribal Council Tom Tilden, urged Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy to consider closure of the Bristol Bay salmon fishery, if necessary, to protect the health of residents of Bristol Bay communities. The immediate response from the governor’s office was that the state has no plans at this time to close down the fishery.

Tilden noted that over half of the fishing permit holders headed for the Bay are coming from California, Washington state and Oregon, where many people have already tested positive for the virus, and many have died. “What can the state do to assure us that our health won’t be jeopardized?” Tilden asked. “We have to start talking and coming up with solutions, but we have to work together. The state says this is an essential resource, but we are essential too.”

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