Today the Trump administration's EPA announced it would withdraw Obama-era proposed Clean Water Act protections for Bristol Bay.

The decision comes at the peak of the summer fishing season, when the entire region is consumed with salmon harvesting and processing. The region's tribes and communities say they were not consulted or asked for input.

"This blatant violation of the government’s trust responsibility to Tribes runs counter to the EPA’s January 2018 statement that additional public comment and tribal consultation would be held before a decision was made," the United Tribes for Bristol Bay said in a statement. "Adding insult to injury, the decision came shortly after Bristol Bay representatives met directly with the agency requesting there be a public process prior to any decision."

In 2010, six Bristol Bay tribes requested the proposed determination in an effort to protect the bay's prolific wild salmon run with a scientific assessment of the region. Commercial and sport fishermen soon joined the tribes in supporting the request.

“The EPA’s arbitrary withdrawal of these protections for Bristol Bay that our tribes fought so long and hard for is just another example of the Trump administration working hand in hand with Pebble’s lobbyists and paving the way for this toxic project to destroy the world’s last great sockeye salmon fishery for the profit of a foreign mining company,” said United Tribes of Bristol Bay Executive Director Alannah Hurley. “This façade of a process by corrupt, politicized agencies has gone on long enough, and it’s time for elected leaders to stand up for our people and stop this project from moving forward."

Bristol Bay's salmon run broke return records in 2018 and stands to break a record for value in 2019.

“This summer, the Bristol Bay fishery has been breaking records, while Washington, D.C., bureaucrats are working at recording-breaking speeds to dismantle the protections that would help ensure our salmon continue to feed the world for years to come,” said Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp. CEO Norm Van Vactor.

“The fact that the EPA would withdraw protections for Bristol Bay after the very same agency stated that the proposed Pebble mine could devastate our region makes no sense,” said Bristol Bay Native Association CEO Ralph Andersen. “This is unacceptable, and a clear example of politics taking priority over science at the federal level. The people of Bristol Bay deserve more from the federal government.”

Today’s decision also comes shortly after the EPA filed lengthy technical comments noting serious flaws in Pebble’s environmental impact review. The notes on that review prompted Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski to break her long-held silence on the project and declare, “I’m concerned, as I read through [EPA's] analysis and critique, that the Corps’ DEIS has failed to meet my standard of a robust and rigorous process.”

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Jessica Hathaway is the former editor in chief of National Fisherman.

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