After deliberations, the Board of Fisheries voted unanimously to consider additional protections for Bristol Bay's extraordinary fish and fish habitat and the Board also charged a committee with considering the expansion of a proposed fish refuge to the entire Bristol Bay Watershed.
"The actions and the statements of the vast majority of the Board members today reflect a major step in the right direction, demonstrating their concern for fish and the fish habitat in the Bristol Bay region," said Norman Van Vactor, Bristol Bay Manager of Peter Pan Seafoods. "In deciding to create a Committee of the Board to further evaluate a fish refuge and consider expanding the area to include all waters of the Nushagak and Kvichak drainages, the Alaska Board of Fisheries is making a proactive move in fulfilling its mandate to protect and conserve our resources and our habitat."
Despite the anti-fish refuge efforts of Northern Dynasty, the Canadian mining company backing the proposed Pebble Mine, and an army of lobbyists and lawyers that descended upon Dillingham, the people of Bristol Bay and the state Board of Fisheries spoke loud and clear in support of clean water and wild salmon.
"With a majority of testimony in support of a refuge, the collective voice here in Bristol Bay, has sent a strong message to the new governor and state legislature, declaring the need for protection for fish and fish habitat in this extraordinarily rich watershed," said Lauren Oakes, Alaska Program Officer for Trout Unlimited.
Trout Unlimited helped to organize support for a fish refuge from commercial, sport, and subsistence stakeholders of the Bristol Bay watershed and provided scientific and legal expertise at this week's Board of Fisheries meeting
"One of the greatest victories here was the opportunity for local residents of Bristol Bay to speak out, expressing their deepest desires to continue traditional use of the fisheries and the waters that sustains them," affirmed George Matz of Homer, author of Proposal 121, the fish refuge proposal before the Board of Fisheries.
During the Board meeting Board of Fish member Rupe Andrews criticized the Canadian opponents of the fish refuge, suggesting that, "Northern Dynasty has made a lot of commitments to safeguarding habitat and resources.
To a large extent, it seems to me, they ought to be out front leading the charge to create this refuge."
The single most common criticism of Proposal 121 was that it did not go far enough. The majority of Proposal 121 supporters asserted that the refuge should be expanded to the entire Bristol Bay Watershed.
Peter Christopher Sr. of New Stuyahok summed up the majority of local sentiment stating, "It should be the role of the Board of Fish to protect our habitat.
All groups here agree on the same concept to protect fisheries for ourselves and future generations."
Rupe Andrews, voting member of the Board of Fisheries, closed the Committee review of the proposal by stating, "Extraordinary places deserve extraordinary protections. I'll make a call to Jay Hammond to get his blessing on naming the refuge in his honor; and it will be a local call!" The Bristol Bay fish refuge proposal now moves to Juneau where legislation to create the Jay Hammond Fish and Game Refuge on public lands throughout the Bristol Bay Watershed is pending.
The proposed Refuge is expected to see widespread, bipartisan support in Juneau and statewide.