A lawsuit filed by six fishermen and paid for by the Pebble Partnership accused the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association of misusing funds. It was dismissed on May 17 by an Anchorage Superior Court.

The plaintiffs argued that the association was overstepping state statutes in aligning itself with tribal and other groups to speak out against the threats posed by the proposed mine and should instead restrict its messages to marketing. The lawsuit was supported by the state of Alaska, a stance contrary to two previous governors, Parnell and Walker, who both acknowledged the association’s authority to spend its own funds at its own discretion.

In dismissing the case, Judge Yvonne Lamoureux said the association had the right to not only promote Bristol Bay salmon, but to take steps necessary to protect the integrity of that brand.

“Interpreting the statute as restricting RSDAs’ abilities to devote efforts regarding environmental concerns in their regions has the potential to produce some absurd results. For example, a RSDA could advertise and market its salmon as wild, pristine, and sustainable but would not be able to spend funds in a way to keep those brand identities authentic in its view or spend funds to signal to its consumers its efforts to maintain that brand identity,” Lamoureux wrote.

She also ordered the Pebble Partnership to pay the defendants’ attorney fees and costs.

“Gov. Dunleavy has said that like all natural resource development projects, he would like to see the Pebble project follow the established permitting process. He says the outcome of that process will ultimately determine if the project meets the standards set forward in law and regulation," said Matt Shuckerow, spokesman for Gov. Mike Dunleavy, in response to a request for comment on the governor's support for Pebble Mine.

“More broadly, the governor’s position on resource development continues to be that we should take care of our environment while responsibly seizing opportunities here in Alaska. Rather than developing minerals across the globe in locations with little to no environmental safeguards, we should be doing our part here to allow Alaska resources to move safely to market.”

Dunleavy also did not support expanding the public comment period on the Pebble Mine draft environmental impact statement, which was extended to July 1.

Laine Welch is an independent Kodiak, Alaska-based fisheries journalist. Click here to send her an email.

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