by Verner Wilson III, Senior Oceans Campaigner
2021 has been a difficult year for many of Alaska’s salmon fisheries. Catches around the state, such as king salmon fisheries in the Yukon-Kuskokwim and Cook Inlet regions and sockeye in Chignik were unfortunately low. Yet there is a bright spot: Bristol Bay saw a record sockeye run of over 66 million sockeye salmon returning. And after years of pressure from Indigenous communities and environmental activists, the EPA finally announced it would take action to protect Bristol Bay, home of the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery!
For years the Indigenous communities of the Bay, including the Central Yupik, of which I am a member, have fought as “Nunamta Aulukestai” or “caretakers of our lands” to ensure that this amazing resource of wild salmon can thrive.
Over the course of two decades, these communities fought special mining interests that sought to dig up the proposed toxic Pebble Mine, which would be disastrous for Bristol Bay and its sockeye populations.
Together, these Indigenous communities, Friends of the Earth members and millions of Americans successfully convinced decision-makers, including the Army Corps of Engineers, the citizens of Alaska and now the EPA to stop construction of this dirty mine.
Just one week after Friends of the Earth members delivered over 40,000 new public comments urging President Biden to protect Bristol Bay from the mining industry, which followed tens of thousands of previous comments pressuring the EPA to change its tune, Administrator Regan finally listened. On September 9, the EPA announced it would reinitiate proposed protections it has authority to achieve under the Clean Water Act, helping make good on President Biden’s 2020 election campaign promise to “listen to the scientists and experts to protect Bristol Bay.”
Once the EPA completes its processes to protect the freshwaters of the region, my tribe and fishermen from around the country can finally breathe a sigh of relief after fighting so long for environmental justice.
This victory wouldn’t have been possible without the tireless advocacy of Friends of the Earth and our allies in Bristol Bay and beyond.