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Tackle firms rally to save ‘world class’ fishery from destruction

America’s fly fishing community has come together in a unique way to fight plans which could destroy all aquatic life in the Bristol Bay region of Alaska and wipe out the largest sockeye salmon run in the world.

Businesses, industry professionals and the wider community united one day in August to raise awareness of – and funds to fight – a mineral exploration project, which would hit the fishery, said to be worth $1.5 billion to the economy and sustains 14,000 jobs.

Pebble Mine is a scheme investigating a very large copper, gold, and molybdenum mineral deposit in the Bristol Bay region of southwest Alaska, and the large-scale proposal is severely controversial among many environmental groups and angling communities because of the impact it would have on a world-class fly fishing destination.

The American Fly Fishing Trade Association (AFFTA) rallied its troops and helped organised A Day For Bristol Bay (D4BB) to support the Bristol Bay Defence Fund, a front line group lobbying in Washington D.C against the mine’s approval.

The day was promoted through the AFTTA website and raised $100,000 for the fund, with donations from retailers, manufacturers and the public and it will support a team of lawyers, scientists, government affairs specialist and experts in the federal permitting process.

The project was originally halted back in 2014, under the Obama administration, when an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study found that it would cause “complete loss of fish habitat due to elimination, dewatering, and fragmentation of streams, wetlands, and other aquatic resources” in some areas of Bristol Bay.

 

However the EPA publicly announced the reversal of the block on July 30th. Staff were informed of the decision a month earlier during an arranged video conference after President Donald Trump’s meeting with Governor Mike Dunleavy aboard Air Force One at the end of June.

The governor, a supporter of the project, emerged from that meeting saying, “This project, like all projects, should be scrutinised and examined under a fair and rigorous permitting process prescribed by law. That was not the case under the EPA’s unprecedented pre-emptive veto.”

Plans for the largest open pit mine in North America are now moving forward under President Trump and is currently on track to receive approval as early as 2020.

AFFTA president and CEO, Ben Bulis, was angered by the EPA withdrawal and said “For over a decade, the threat of an environmentally, economically and culturally devastating open-pit copper and gold mine in the headwaters of Bristol Bay has reared its head and, for over a decade, anglers, hunters, naturalists and concerned citizens by the millions have raised their voices again and again in opposition to the mine.

“It is ludicrous that the EPA under this Administration has proven that it doesn’t care at all about the health of the very thing it’s charged with protecting…

“It is more important than ever for the fly fishing industry and larger angling community to stand together, protect what we love and absolutely cannot replace.

“We are beyond letters and petitions. We need to financially support those who are on the front-line, face-to-face with decision-makers who can change the course of this preposterous mine proposal, halting it for good and forever.”

Chris Wood, CEO of Trout Unlimited, based in Washington, D.C., added: “Sixty million fish can’t be wrong. That’s how many sockeye were sustainably harvested from Bristol Bay last year. That’s the resource that is being put at risk by this unjustified and fundamentally boneheaded decision. We have spent $18 billion on unsuccessful efforts to try and recover salmon in the Columbia and Snake Rivers, meanwhile Alaska’s resource is outstanding and all we have to do to keep it intact is have the good sense to leave it alone. We will look at all options – including litigation – to protect Bristol Bay from large-scale industrial mining.”

Christine Todd Whitman, who served as an Environmental Protection Agency administrator during the George W. Bush administration, said the decision to lift the restriction on the mine before the agency’s scientists fully reviewed the matter, could violate the Clean Water Act (CWA) which is a primary federal law in the United States governing water pollution and designed to restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the nation’s waters.

She said, “It’s politics trumping policy and good science. If this goes forward now with all the holes and the insufficiencies, there’ll be a lawsuit, no question about that.”

The company behind the proposed mine, Pebble Limited Partnership, said that the EPA’s previous objections to the project were based on “‘hypothetical mining scenarios’ prepared by EPA itself and assessed in an ‘alleged’ scientific study.”

Alan Gnann, president of REC Components that manufacture and supply rod components for the fishing industry said, “REC supported ‘The Day for Bristol Bay’ as it is the leading environmental challenge facing the fly fishing industry in the USA today. The battle between extremely well-funded mining interests and our industry as well as many other stakeholders at risk, has been waged for well over five years with the future of the Bristol Bay watershed and the enormous fisheries it supports at risk. I urge anyone with an interest in the future of Bristol Bay to step forward in support of this extraordinarily important issue which will ultimately determine the future of commercial and sportfishing in the Pacific Northwest.”

 

Author: Simon Calvert

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