Bristol Bay, Bering Sea need protection from oil drilling

There is no match to Alaska’s diverse and productive fisheries. From Southeast to the Bering Sea, we produce half of the U.S. domestic seafood. Fisheries management might be complex but the result is simple: healthy fisheries equal more jobs than any other private sector enterprise in the state and a tax base that supports Alaska’s coastal economy and communities. 

Our responsibility is to take good care of the habitat that makes this abundance all possible so that future generations of Alaskan fishermen have an opportunity like we have had.

Bristol Bay and the southeast waters of the Bering Sea is one place where choices should be clear.

This region accounts for the greatest magnitude and wealth of Alaska’s fisheries. Not only are the rivers and lakes of Bristol Bay host to 50 percent of the world’s sockeye salmon, the marine waters support other valuable fisheries. Here is one of the most important halibut nursery grounds, contributing to the halibut population throughout both the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska.

What happens here arguably affects halibut fishermen everywhere. The prized red king crab grow to maturity in Bristol Bay and Alaska’s large groundfish fisheries, including pollock and cod, are located nearby. Herring arrive in the early spring, turning on a spectacle of marine life and supporting the significant roe, food and bait fisheries.

There is a decision pending at the EPA about whether or not the super-sized Pebble mine can go forward in the Bristol Bay watershed. In this past November election, an impressive 75 percent of the voters agreed to raise the bar on approving future large-scale mining in the Bristol Bay Fisheries Reserve. There should be no question of the statewide concern about protecting the Bristol Bay salmon fishery from large-scale mining.

Another decision is needed that will put to rest the question of opening the marine waters of Bristol Bay and the southeast Bering Sea to offshore oil and gas drilling. Although promises can be made about more jobs and economic diversity, we have to ask at what risk? Not all economic activity is compatible with the long-term interests of the successful renewable industry we already have.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management estimates the region’s oil and gas resources to be worth $7.7 billion over a 25- to 40-year period. The fisheries could produce $50 billion to $80 billion over that same time. The geology represents one of the lowest reserves around the nation’s Outer Continental Shelf. High risk but low return does not sound like a sound business plan for sustaining our fisheries or meeting our energy demand.

In 1995, the U.S. Department of the Interior bought back leases from the oil companies that they had purchased in the 1980s because of ongoing and unresolved concerns that Bristol Bay is meant for fisheries, not offshore drilling. But since then the government has attempted to re-open the same area that had been bought back. We need a reliable decision to protect Bristol Bay now and for the future.

This is the time to remove Bristol Bay and southeast Bering Sea from the federal oil and gas leasing program for good. It makes no sense to come back to the same question every five years when the Department of the Interior puts a new leasing schedule together. Presidents and administrations come and go, so it is our job to generate a lasting solution.

As fishermen, we’re out there to catch fish and provide quality natural food for the nation — but the truly magnificent phenomenon of millions of sockeye surging to the rivers is a humbling observation every season. We need to provide permanent protection for Bristol Bay fisheries resources from economic displacement — like the Pebble mine and offshore oil and gas drilling — that jeopardizes the nation’s most valuable fisheries. 

Please join us in support of a permanent withdrawal of Bristol Bay from the Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program.

Longstanding Bristol Bay commercial salmon fishermen, Stosh Anderson lives in Kodiak, Alaska and Robert Heyano is a life-long resident of Bristol Bay.

11/18/2016 - 10:42am