A coalition of Alaskan fishermen, Alaska natives, and conservation groups are coming together this week at the Seattle Fish Expo to urge President-elect Barack Obama to re-establish protection of the fishing waters in Bristol Bay and parts of the Bering Sea. These waters account for over 40% of the U.S. national seafood harvest, a $2 billion fishing industry, and are rich with a number of commercially important species, including halibut, pollock, cod, flatfish, herring, king crab, and the world’s largest sockeye salmon run.
These fishing grounds had long been protected – until 2007, when the Bush administration lifted the ban on offshore oil leasing. The Minerals Management Service (MMS) has scheduled a lease sale in these waters for 2011, even though the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has warned against it, fearing destruction of natural habitat and subsequent damage to regional economies. The sale is opposed by a number of diverse groups, including the Alaska Marine Conservation Council and the World Wildlife Fund. Others cite the infamously bad weather as an argument against drilling, suggesting that the operations would be too dangerous for employees and too unstable for safe oil containment purposes. The MMS has refused a public forum on the topic. Meanwhile, the Alaska Independent Fishermen’s Marketing Association (AIFMA) and others continue to fight for the reinstatement of the protection of the region.