Safeguard Bristol Bay watershed

Too few Alaskans know the humbling beauty of the Alaska Peninsula and the imposing journey into Bristol Bay. But over the past nine years, I have had the good fortune of spending summers aboard the F/V K2, combing the waters of Bristol Bay for sockeye salmon. In May, life abounds. Migrating birds flock overhead, pods of whales play at midship and eventually, bright, beautiful salmon arrive in overwhelming abundance.

There are too many examples of salmon run failures around the world; dams blocking fish passage, wild rivers diverted, pollution from burgeoning growth and overfishing. But in Bristol Bay, we have sound management, an intact ocean ecosystem and pristine water in the rivers, streams and lakes. I know we have a successful and sustainable fishery in Bristol Bay because many Alaskans are dedicated stewards of the harvest and habitat that salmon need to thrive. Because of this, we have a plentiful harvest and I, and thousands of others, have a unique and honorable occupation.

The proposed Pebble Mine has captured the attention of many during the time that I have been fishing and I am one of the many Alaskans proud to fly the iconic “No Pebble” flag on our mast. But the other great risk to Bristol Bay, the possibility of offshore oil and gas drilling, has been an ongoing struggle for more than 35 years. In 1995 fishermen, tribes, governors and conservation groups were successful in getting the U.S. Department of the Interior to buy back leases that had been sold a few years prior, and I am grateful for that effort, which has effectively kept the horizon free of oil rigs. But the time has come again to take action.

Every five years the federal government develops a new leasing plan and the question of whether or not to lease Bristol Bay is revived. In recent years we have successfully held off proposals to re-open the same area to offshore drilling, but we need a more permanent solution. Isn’t it time to resolve this uncertainty? How many more generations of fisherpeople have to testify at hearings, write letters and travel to Washington, DC to make the same case yet again?

Bristol Bay has the world’s largest wild salmon fishery, producing jobs and a renewable economy. It supports a traditional harvest that has been ongoing for thousands of years filling smoke houses and drying racks, and it defines a way of life for those who live and visit Bristol Bay. Repeating the mistakes made elsewhere that threaten the viability of the salmon run would be the ultimate tragedy. As we press forward in stopping the Pebble Mine, it is also the time to make Bristol Bay off limits to offshore drilling for good.

It is winter now, but I know when summer approaches my thoughts will turn toward the bay; to the freedom found in working hard, being on the water during endless twilight, and the bright chrome salmon as they make their way home. At all costs, we need to defend the salmon, and in doing that, protect the people’s livelihoods and ways of life that are inextricably tied to them. As a young fisherman, my hope is that we can work together to protect both the headwaters and the open ocean. In accomplishing this, we will inherit clean water and bountiful fisheries, and in time, the responsibility of passing that on to our children.

It takes a village to raise those children and it takes a watershed to raise a salmon. Let’s safeguard both of these legacies.

More in Opinion

Rep. Justin Ruffridge, a Soldotna Republican who co-chairs the House Education Committee, speaks during floor debate of a joint session of the Alaska State Legislature on Monday, March 18, 2024. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Rep. Justin Ruffridge: Creating a road map to our shared future

Capitol Corner: Legislators report back from Juneau

An array of solar panels stand in the sunlight at Whistle Hill in Soldotna, Alaska, on Sunday, April 7, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Renewable Energy Fund: Key to Alaska’s clean economy transition

AEA will continue to strive to deliver affordable, reliable, and sustainable energy to provide a brighter future for all Alaskans.

Mount Redoubt can be seen acoss Cook Inlet from North Kenai Beach on Thursday, July 2, 2022. (Photo by Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion)
Opinion: An open letter to the HEA board of directors

Renewable energy is a viable option for Alaska

Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, R-Nikiski, speaks in opposition to an executive order that would abolish the Board of Certified Direct-Entry Midwives during a joint legislative session on Tuesday, March 12, 2024 in Juneau, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Sen. Jesse Bjorkman: Making progress, passing bills

Capitol Corner: Legislators report back from Juneau

Priya Helweg is the deputy regional director and executive officer for the Office of the Regional Director (ORD), Office of Intergovernmental and External Affairs, Department of Health and Human Services, Region 10. (Image via hhs.gov)
Opinion: Taking action on the maternal health crisis

The United States has the highest maternal mortality rate among high-income countries

Heidi Hedberg. (Photo courtesy of the Alaska Department of Health)
Opinion: Alaska’s public assistance division is on course to serve Alaskans in need more efficiently than ever

We are now able to provide in-person service at our offices in Bethel, Juneau, Kodiak, Kenai, Homer and Wasilla

Sara Hondel (Courtesy photo)
Opinion: Alaskan advocate shines light on Alzheimer’s crisis

In the heart of the nation’s capital next week, volunteers will champion the urgent need for legislative action to support those affected by Alzheimer’s

Rep. Ben Carpenter, a Nikiski Republican, speaks during floor debate of a joint session of the Alaska State Legislature on Monday, March 18, 2024. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Rep. Ben Carpenter: Clearing red tape on occupational licensing

Capitol Corner: Legislators report back from Juneau

Most Read