This week, President Obama traveled to Bristol Bay, Alaska, where he was welcomed with broad smiles and loud cheers by the small community of Dillingham. Despite the rainy weather, the President went out on the beach with commercial and subsistence fishermen to experience the remarkable fishery. And, the salmon obliged.
After an epic year of more than 50 million wild salmon, a few salmon were still passing through. As local leaders explained the significance of the fishery, and expressed deep appreciation for his past actions in protecting it, their message was clear: the job isn’t done.
“President Obama got a warm welcome from Bristol Bay today. We’re thankful for his commitment to protecting our salmon from off-shore drilling, but we still need his help to protect the salmon’s spawning grounds from the Pebble Mine,” said Kimberly Williams, executive director of Nunamta Aulukestai, an association of ten native village corporations and villages.
In 2014, President Obama took the first step towards protecting this remarkable fishery by placing Bristol Bay off limits to offshore oil and gas drilling – protecting the ocean environment where the salmon spend years before they return home to reproduce. But, it isn’t enough to protect the ocean environment, yet leave the network of rivers and streams that form the salmon’s spawning grounds at risk. These headwaters are threatened by a massive copper and gold mine, the Pebble Mine, proposed by a small Canadian mining company, Northern Dynasty.
In 2010, a broad coalition of commercial fishermen, Alaska Natives, conservation groups and others petitioned the EPA to protect the billion dollar a year fishing industry that provides 14,000 jobs and half of the world’s supply of wild sockeye salmon. The Obama Administration listened, and in January 2014, the EPA announced a proposal to restrict mine waste dumping from the proposed Pebble Mine under Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act. But, before the EPA could issue its final determination, Northern Dynasty sued the agency, claiming the EPA was violating the Federal Advisory Committee Act by conspiring with “anti-mining” groups on the Bristol Bay watershed assessment that formed the scientific basis on which the decision was based.
Hanging banners to welcome President Obama
It’s almost laughable that the company claims that American citizens are in ‘cahoots’ with the EPA for urging the agency to do its job – namely protecting America’s greatest wild salmon fishery from a destructive mining project. That said, the court has issued an injunction against any further action by the EPA until the judge has issued its ruling on the matter.
But, when the dust settles, and the court issues its final decision, we’ll all be waiting for the President to put the threat of the Pebble Mine behind us, and protect the Bristol Bay fishery once and for all. Yesterday in Bristol Bay, the President stated, “If you've eaten wild salmon, it's likely to have come from here,” “It's part of the reason why it's so critical that we make sure that we protect this incredible natural resource, not just for the people whose livelihood depends on it, but for the entire country.”
We couldn’t agree more.