As Bristol Bay’s population swells with seasonal workers, organizations opposed to mining in the area are redoubling their outreach efforts.
Kristina Andrew greets Nick Harvey as he steps into the Sustaining Bristol Bay Fisheries booth at the Dillingham harbor. He’s hoping to buy a “No Pebble Mine” flag for his boat to fly. Andrew, the director of Sustaining Bristol Bay Fisheries, is out of flags, but Harvey agrees to sign a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency instead.
The letter is addressed to Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt. It expresses disappointment that the EPA and Pebble Limited Partnership recently reached a settlement that will allow the Pebble project to proceed into a normal permitting process.
As Harvey, a 20-year-old deckhand from Seattle, waits on a Dillingham resident to finish signing her letter, he chats with Andrew. She tells him the latest on litigation and legislation related to the proposed mine. This is Harvey’s second season fishing, and it is his first in Bristol Bay.
“This fishery is one of the last truly wild ones in the world. And it’s definitely worth protecting. It’s not worth putting a mine upstream that would decimate the salmon populations. I didn’t know about it until I started working up here. It definitely should be a Pacific Northwest issue if not a national one. It could use more recognition nationwide,” says Harvey.
Sustaining Bristol Bay Fisheries is a recent project of the United Tribes of Bristol Bay. SBBF’s goal is to connect specifically with the commercial fishing industry. Andrew has set up operations in a shipping container in the harbor. The container is painted with fish, boats, and anti-Pebble slogans. Inside she has hoodies and t-shirts for sale, letters to sign and informational flyers to pass out. The booth is staffed every weekday afternoon.
In a week and half of being open, she estimates 500 people have signed letters to the EPA. Over the weekend, SBBF hosted a happy hour at the Sea Inn, a bar in downtown Dillingham. Andrew estimates 150 attended, and 90 signed letters.
“The importance of having the outreach in the summer is this is when we have the most traffic,” explains Andrew. “A lot of fishermen are coming up from out of town, and we really want to capitalize on everybody being here right before they go out fishing.”
On the east side of the bay, Melanie Brown is manning a table outside the Naknek LFS store. Like Andrew, she is collecting signatures to protest the Pebble project. Brown is a part-time set netter in the Naknek district.
“The more they hear about people’s concerns about the project, the more they’re going to have to listen,” says Brown. “They’re not going to be able to deny that they don’t have the social license to move forward if that means anything to them.”
Brown sees these petitions as a concrete way of making a difference.
“If fishing is important to you, if you want to continue to fish, if you have children you want to participate in the fishery, descendants who want to participate, then you have to remain diligent. You have to do what you can to put the pressure on the decision makers,” says Brown.
After this week, she will switch from petitioning mining to doing what keeps her motivated—fishing.
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