Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Bristol Bay Residents Want Additional Protections for 2020 Salmon Fishery

A working group representing health, economic, housing and tribal entities in Alaska’s Bristol Bay region says the state’s latest pandemic health mandate, focused on independent commercial fishermen, is not adequate to ensure the safety of area residents.

The Bristol Bay working group told Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy this week that the one size fits all Mandate 17 has two shortcomings: the expectation that independent commercial fishermen will self-quarantine upon reaching Bristol Bay and the lack of a mandatory testing component to screen all arrivals. They are concerned that spread of the novel coronavirus could potentially overwhelm the capacities of small medical facilities in Dillingham and Naknek.

Mandate 17 requires all vessel captains to ensure that they and their crew abide by a number of precautions, including a 14-day quarantine after arriving in Alaska, hand washing before eating or touching any food items or utensils, and sanitizing efforts including disinfecting of eating areas at least three times a day. According to the working group, the only way to keep the virus from spreading to Bristol Bay communities via incoming fishermen and industry support workers would be through testing and quarantine, monitoring of their health and stringent enforcement of all practices listed in Mandate 17. Unless this can be assured, the 2020 Bristol Bay salmon season should be shut down, they said.

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy has said several times during COVID-19 news conferences that his staff is working with community officials in Bristol Bay to reach agreement before the fishery begins, but those efforts are apparently focused on talks with community leaders not connected with the Bristol Bay working group.

Meanwhile several veteran Bristol Bay harvesters heading for the Bay on their own fishing vessels, as well as others flying in to connect with vessels they leave in Bristol Bay during the off-season have been adamant that they will self-quarantine themselves and their crew either before heading for the Bay or immediately upon arrival. Those self-quarantining in their home ports have said they plan to remain on their vessels during the entire fishery, with no trips into communities near where they are fishing.

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