Senators urge caution on Pebble Mine, Partnership says fishing on decline

Pebble Partnership CEO John Shively is in Washington, D.C. this week lobbying Congress – which has no authority over whether the mine proceeds. The EPA could veto the mine outright if it deems the project too damaging to the region’s watersheds.

Shively said he understands the concerns of the senators, but their fears would be allayed by the environmental review process.

He said the commercial salmon industry in Alaska is losing its importance.

“You have to understand that the reason five senators from the West Coast can write a letter about the salmon industry, is because so many salmon fisherman don’t live in Alaska,” he said on Capitol Hill. “They take our resource, and they go somewhere else to spend their money.”

The five senators represent California, Oregon and Washington State. They’re all Democrats, and the only person missing from those delegations is Oregon’s Ron Wyden. He chairs the Senate Energy Committee.

They fired off a letter to the EPA referencing a study from the University of Alaska Institute of Economic and Social Research that showed Bristol Bay salmon contribute hundreds of millions of dollars to their states.

Oregon Senator Jeff Merkely said he hasn’t heard from the EPA yet; the letter went out Monday.

“Oregon has a very large salmon fishery,” he said.  ”And of course, once the salmon are in the ocean, they can travel all over. Keeping our salmon runs healthy in Oregon benefit other fishermen in other states.”

But Shively said the benefits aren’t necessarily in state. He said Thursday that many people in rural Southwest Alaska can’t afford the costs associated with commercial fishing.

“The commercial fishing industry might be an answer for California, Washington, and Oregon, but it’s not an answer for people who live out in Southwest Alaska, which is why more and more people are willing to look at whether Pebble can solve some of those economic problems,” he said.

Not according to commercial fisherman Lindsey Bloom. She’s a long-time critic of the proposed mine, and has run her fishing boat in Bristol Bay for 15 years.

“I have only increased my profitability since I got in,” she said.

She added that high prices make up for low-catch years.  By and large, the price of salmon has steadily risen, and she expects the same this season.

Bloom is the incoming chair of the environment committee for United Fisherman of Alaska and said commercial fishing accounts for 14,000 jobs in Bristol Bay.

“The seafood industry in Alaska is the number one private sector in employer,” she said in a Thursday phone interview.

The Pebble Partnership has not submitted its application. Shively says that could happen this year. But he conceded, he’s said that for many years. And if approved, the permitting process would take several years.

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