OPINION: Fishermen's voices will not fall silent
As we look to the summer ahead, the Bristol Bay commercial fishing fleet again faces a season of uncertainty. To be sure, our fishermen face unknowns every year: be it the price per pound, strength of the run, or the possibility of dangerous weather.
For over a decade though, our fleet has been living with an uncertainty more dangerous than them all. After 10 years of actively fighting the prospect of a mine that could end our centuries-old commercial fishery, we go into this fishing season with the proposed Pebble Mine as close as it has ever been to permitting.
The issue weighs heavy over the fleet, and there is no denying we are more than a little tired of the fight. But that is what this foreign mining company is waiting for, us to get tired and quit fighting. That's why I am excited about a new effort; Sustaining Bristol Bay Fisheries (SBBF), founded to represent commercial fishermen in the fight to protect our livelihoods.
For the optimistic of us, after years of work to gain protections for our fishery, it seemed the Pebble Project had faded away beyond resurrection.
Unfortunately, this couldn't be farther from the truth. Despite our efforts, lasting protections have yet to be finalized. The Pebble Limited Partnership is reinvigorated now, and is doubling down on efforts to attract investors and garner political support for its project.
The company continuously misrepresents its level of local support to help do this, exaggerating division within members of our fishing fleet on the issue. So yet again, we enter the 2017 salmon season with this heightened threat and uncertainty about our futures as fishermen in Bristol Bay.
Sustaining Bristol Bay Fisheries was founded to unite and amplify our fishermen's voices to stop mines like Pebble from devastating the Bristol Bay fishery. While fish politics are never perfect, the system is working well in Bristol Bay: our salmon make up over half the world's supply, the industry contributes over 1.5 billion to the American economy, and supports over 14,000 jobs.
This is an economy we aren't willing to risk for a short-term mine at the headwaters of the watershed, and it shouldn't be something our leadership is willing to trade away either. This world-class fishery has operated sustainably for over 130 years and SBBF's mission is to represent fishermen who want to ensure it will continue to provide for our livelihoods and the generations to follow. The commercial fishing fleet has long been strong advocates to protect Bristol Bay. With Pebble's renewed threat, it is up to us to keep fighting to protect the last great sockeye-salmon fishery in the world.
With the upcoming fishing season mere weeks away and a chronic realm of uncertainty looming overhead, there is one thing Bristol Bay commercial fishermen can be sure of: our voices will not fall silent. Sustaining Bristol Bay Fisheries will stand up for fishermen and will be a steadfast voice to protect those who depend on the vibrant economy Bristol Bay's world-class fishery provides for our people, our state, and our world.
Paul Hansen is a Sustaining Bristol Bay Fisheries advisory member and lifelong Bristol Bay resident and commercial fishermen.