Judy Cavanaugh stands with others at a rally against the Pebble Mine in front of Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s Juneau office on Tuesday, June 25, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Judy Cavanaugh stands with others at a rally against the Pebble Mine in front of Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s Juneau office on Tuesday, June 25, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Opinion: Bristol Bay fishermen oppose Pebble employee’s nomination to Board of Fish

Alaska’s fisheries belong to the people.

  • By DeeDee Bennis, Mike Bianchi, Konrad Schaad
  • Thursday, May 7, 2020 5:30am
  • Opinion

We are sport, subsistence and commercial fishers in Bristol Bay, and we want to ensure the fisheries we rely on are healthy for generations to come. We write in protest of Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s recent nomination of a Pebble Limited Partnership employee to the state Board of Fisheries.

Since taking office, the governor has worked to advance the interests of a foreign mining company ahead of the interests of Alaskans. His recent nomination of Abe Williams, the Pebble Limited Partnership’s director of regional affairs, is another example of this.

A Pebble employee cannot serve on a board whose task is overseeing state fisheries management without obvious bias. Giving Pebble yet another boost to the detriment of Bristol Bay via this nomination is a deplorable use of Dunleavy’s position of power.

Williams has spent much of his career working to promote the proposed Pebble Mine, which risks severe impacts to the sustainability and profitability of one of our state’s most important fisheries. In recent years, Williams has filed a lawsuit funded by the Pebble Limited Partnership against fellow commercial fishermen, consistently mischaracterized the overwhelming views of commercial fishermen and local communities in the region that oppose the mine and has testified dozens of times in support of developing the project despite the fact that it would permanently destroy between 105 and 300 miles of rivers and streams in the region.

Williams’ long-standing commitment to the proposed Pebble Mine and willingness to cast aside the harm it would cause to the local fisheries calls into question his ability to fulfill the responsibilities of the Board to conserve and develop Alaska’s fisheries.

Bristol Bay has maintained near constant representation on the Board of Fish for 40 years, and appointment of an Anchorage resident to a seat historically held by a rural resident is an example of the governor’s lack of concern for rural communities, people and fisheries.

The board is tasked with important decisions for sport, subsistence and commercial users. It is imperative that it include some perspective from rural communities who are strongly affected by its decisions. Replacing a board member in good standing who represents rural Alaska with an urban, active advocate for the proposed Pebble Mine flies in the face of the values and priorities the Board of Fish is mandated to represent.

If allowed to serve on the board, Williams will be the second current or recent Pebble employee to sit on that body, as Dunleavy already appointed former Pebble employee Marit Carlson-Von Dort to the board. It is absurd to consider that a foreign-owned company trying to develop a massive mining project atop the world’s most productive wild-salmon fishery could have such strong representation in an entity responsible for the health of our fisheries.

Alaska’s fisheries belong to the people. We have the right to fisheries that are managed fairly — and to have a say in who manages them. It is clear that Dunleavy is trying to circumvent the public process by naming Williams to the Board of Fisheries during a time when the Legislature can’t gather safely to take public comment and confirm a nominee.

We believe that the current Board of Fish members should retain their seats until new appointees can be properly vetted by legislators and the public. The Legislature must act to deny Williams’ appointment to the board. Allowing Williams to serve on the board would undermine its role in conserving and developing Alaska’s fisheries and call into question the board’s ability to responsibly manage fisheries in Bristol Bay and throughout the state.

• Konrad Schaad has fished commercially in Bristol Bay since 1985 and lives in Homer. Mike Bianchi is a Bristol Bay remote rafting guide, former commercial fisherman and lifelong Alaskan living in Homer. Wassiliisia (Deedee) Bennis is a subsistence fisher, a former commercial setnet fisher, and life-long Bristol Bay resident. Columns, My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire.

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