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November 23, 2014

Seattle’s Stake in Bristol Bay Seafood

One of the newer outrages that Rep. Don Young, Congressman for all Alaskans who voted for him, has to face is the U.S. Senator from Washington, Maria Cantwell.  What has she done to incur his infamous wrath?  She has stuck her nose in the business of Alaskan resource management.  You see, one of Senator Cantwell’s main issues is sustainability of salmon populations and the fishing jobs they provide.  Not only has she been working to secure funding for the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund – from the Columbia River to Puget Sound, salmon populations are struggling to recover after decades of habitat destruction due to natural resource development and urban pollution – she is working to support all intact, healthy salmon ecosystems in North America.  Why?  Because Seattle fishermen could use more jobs in their area and they own permits for commercial fishing in the Bristol Bay region.  She’s even become directly involved in the EPA’s Bristol Bay watershed assessment, which puts her in Don Young’s cross hairs because he has introduced legislation that would strip the EPA of its authority under the Clean Water Act, Section 404(c), to conduct such an assessment.

Setting aside the political squabbles and power trips, there is a very real tangible connection between Bristol Bay and Seattle that warrants involvement from a U.S. Senator who represents Washington constituents.  When I was out in Bristol Bay last summer, I met three brothers from Seattle who each own their own drift boats and permits.  Like many permit holders, they spend their winters down in Seattle while their boats sit out the winter in Naknek.  When the time comes, they fly up to King Salmon and get their boats ready for another season of sockeye salmon fishing.  And then, sometime in mid-to-late July, depending on how good their season was, they catch a Pen Air or Alaska Airlines flight back to Anchorage and continue on home to Seattle.  According to the Alaska Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission, there are currently 742 drift gillnet permit holders (out of a total of 2154) for Bristol Bay sockeye salmon who reside in the Washington state.  That’s 34% of all Bristol Bay sockeye salmon drift gillnet commercial permits held by residents of Washington.  (Life is too short for me to look on a map and determine all of the towns and cities that are in the greater Seattle area and compare those names with permit addresses to give you a more accurate picture of how many permits are held specifically by Seattle-area residents.)

And Seattle doesn’t provide just residency for permit holders, it also provides a vibrant consumer market ready to purchase and enjoy all manner of Alaskan seafood.  When I took an early morning stroll down downtown Seattle’s famous Pike Place Market, I saw a lot of fresh seafood – it’s truly one of the wonders of the place, along with the amazing selections of fresh flowers.  But I was looking at the seafood, because I wanted to see how important Alaskan seafood was to this market.  After passing up and down the full length of the market, I could guess that about half of all the seafood came from Alaska.  You could see large banners celebrating the coming Copper River sockeye salmon opener, other signs touting the clear, clean and fresh waters of Alaska and the associated quality of seafood that comes from it. When speaking to Kevin Davis, head chef and owner of the Steelhead Diner and Blueacre Seafood restaurants, he said that people come all over from the country to Seattle for its selection of Alaskan seafood.  A once-bustling seafood generator itself, the Puget Sound commercial fishing markets had collapsed over decades due to resource development and urban pollution.  No longer able to fish their own waters as much, Seattle fishermen had reached up into Alaskan waters and found a way to satisfy the strong demand for fresh seafood in Seattle.    And visitors responded, answering the call to experience seafood from the most pure waters remaining in the United States for sustainable commercial fishing.

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Submit your comments regarding the EPA’s draft watershed assessment of the region surrounding the proposed Pebble mine HERE. Comment deadline is Monday, July 24.

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12 Responses to “Seattle’s Stake in Bristol Bay Seafood”
  1. Every year we look forward to good delicious salmon from Alaska. I’ve gotten used to the great taste of it and kind of take it for granted. The last time we were in Florida, I made the mistake of ordering salmon and found out just how much better Alaska salmon is. What I got in Florida didn’t have the same taste and it had a mushy texture. Ew. I won’t make that mistake again.

    And Maria Cantwell is a senator that I can be proud of. Once again she is showing just why she should be re-elected. Good for her.

  2. zyxomma says:

    NO Pebble. Not now, not ever.

  3. g says:

    There is no “s” in Pike Place Market. Just saying. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pike_Place_Market

  4. Beejay says:

    Born and raised in one of those Washington towns that used to have a few hundred fishing boats, Bellingham, I can attest to the fact of how important Alaska is to the Washington seafood industry. When the local runs began to truly diminish in the mid to late 70’s, many of the locals began going north if they could get a license. It saved many a boat for years, but the expense of getting an AK license was too much for those who couldn’t.

    The links between Puget Sound fishers and Alaska goes back much, much further though. Washington canneries expanded into Alaska during the early 1900’s (and probably before that), and there were canneries and fleets all over Alaska that owed their existence to those companies. As a city kid growing up in the 60’s and 70’s, I knew and went to school with lots of kids whose families would fish AK in the summer, and then return south to fish during the fall seasons down below.

    No more. As Carl Johnson noted, Washington’s salmon runs were depleted by overfishing, increasing pollution, and the destruction of salmon habitat in the streams and rivers of Puget Sound. I’ll be among those who would like to claim a little altruism here, and say that we don’t want Alaska to follow in our footsteps for once.

    NO to Pebble Mine! SAVE Bristol Bay! Save it for us all!

  5. Alaska Pi says:

    While I agree that Senator Cantwell has a real stake in the health of the Bristol Bay fisheries , for her constituents and as a federal official, I have mixed feelings about a couple things here.
    Our stoopid Rep Young truly is tapping into multiple levels of frustration felt by folks who live in Bristol Bay which are largely ignored at the state and federal levels. He’s sort of a master at that- it is part of why we haven’t been able to get rid of him.
    The absolute idiocy of his move to try to shut the EPA out of oversight of navigable waters is lost on folks who know way too many of those 14K jobs are poorly paid seasonal ( weeks , not months ) or go to J1 employees, way too many of the dollars out of the whole kabob never touch land in the area, a fair amount of which leaves in the pockets of WA based fishermen.
    The health of the fishery is paramount , Pebble is an abomination, but the poverty in the area is being ignored… except when Mr Young and his ilk tap into it. We have to do better than for our neighbors there than yab on about Seattle’s stake in the fishery. We have to.
    21.4% living below poverty level and only one half the per capita money income of the state average is not anywhere near good enough for an area which fills the wallets of so many others. Not near good enough and creeps like Rep Young is tapped right into that. He isn’t going to help fix it but he sure is gonna use it.
    http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/02/02164.html

    • Carl says:

      But, if you look at those census numbers, you will see that the median income in the area is $84,000, compared to the statewide median of $66,000. Some villages have low median incomes, but many don’t.

      • Alaska Pi says:

        Carl- that is true of the tiny BB Borough , which is stuck in the middle of the larger (and where Pebble Mine would be situated ) Lake and Pen Borough.
        Dillingham Census Area is better off than Lake and Pen but still not up to the state averages.
        Bristol Bay Borough covers 888 square miles , with fewer than 1000 people and is tucked into Lake and Pen’s “abdomen”. Lake and Pen encompasses almost 24,000 square miles and is home to around 1650 folks.
        BB Borough has most of the processing and shipping infrastructure and benefits mightily from that. Lake and Pen, where Pebble would be situated, does ok but has a considerably smaller piece of the pie.
        Fish landing taxes netted BB Borough $1,796,505 in 2010 and $214,796 for Lake and Pen.
        I am of the mind that we do ourselves no favors by accentuating only the positive , the big dollars only, when we talk about the area- especially in relation to the proposed Pebble abomination.
        Lake and Pen is hurting- badly- on multiple fronts and we Alaskans need to pay attention to that.
        The focus on all the dollars the fishery scatters round is a sitting duck as it is now because it is so uneven and DNR with its rubber stamp permitting process has an equal argument about how high the mining “boat” will float for locals too.
        Also- the long and untidy history with WA state is a tough one. Old grudges about being a resource colony to WA are alive and kicking, bolstered by watching WA fishermen fish permits locals had to sell in lean years to survive. This is not to say that we aren’t connected and that WA has no stake in the BB fishery but there are a lot of undercurrents we need to stay on top of- because if we do not you can bet Rep Young and his ilk will use em in nefarious ways…

      • Alaska Pi says:

        over 140 residents of more than 16 communities in the Bristol Bay area.31
        The Pebble Project presents an opportunity to improve the
        economy in the Bristol Bay region, an area where 73% of the inhabitants
        are Alaska Natives.32 In 1999, 24% of Alaska Native Corporation
        shareholders in Bristol Bay lived at or below the poverty line.33
        “Additionally, the Bristol Bay region has the second-worst rate of
        unemployment among the twelve Alaska Native Corporation regions.34
        Making matters worse, Bristol Bay has high prices for commodities such
        as groceries and fuel.35 Its electricity prices are also the highest in
        Alaska, averaging more than double the prices in Anchorage.36
        Morever, diversification is necessary because the fishing industry
        cannot solve all of the region’s economic woes. This is particularly true
        because, although the commercial salmon fishing industry plays an
        important role in Bristol Bay, much of the benefits do not accrue locally.
        Of the roughly $98 million the Bristol Bay fisheries generated in 2005,
        only 11% went to local residents, while 54.2% went to non-Alaskans.37″

        http://scholarship.law.duke.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1001&context=alr_onlineforum

        This is the fight.
        It is a nasty one.
        We need to be very aware of all the arguments.

    • shawn robinson says:

      funny you should talk about “poverty” in the bristol bay water shed. i have been fishing outta naknek for 9 years. i have fished in all 5 districts of bristol bay. even though it is MUCH, MUCH easier for a watershed resident to get a permit loan through the BBEDC than a guy to get a S.B.A. loan to fish in bristol bay from washington, few people do it. why? they are too busy getting government checks (welfare, foodstamps, tribal checks, ssi/ssdi, etc.) THEY DONT WANNA WORK!!! they drink all that welfare money away. so fuck you!! when you talk about the “poverty” there and all the “poor people” that are having their resources exploited!!! the fish are there, the funding is there. the “poor” need to get off their ass and WORK!!! -SHAWN ROBINSON F/V VIXEN

  6. tigerwine says:

    Well said!!!

  7. beth. says:

    **** Monday, 23 July, is the comment deadline, not the 24th (that’ll be Tuesday, this year.) b.****

    Great article, Carl; thanks. Seattle and Alaska have a relationship going waaaaay back. It’s not always been a relationship necessarily advantageous to AK, but a pristine Bristol Bay with a healthy salmon population, seems like a win-win for both places. It’s rather a no-brainer, from my vantage point. beth.

  8. John says:

    The whole point of having a national government is to allow the national population, through their elected officials, have a say in what will affect a national issue. The fact that Bristol Bay is in Alaska doesn’t mean that only our one Representative and two Senators get to say what happens there. Even members of congress from West Virginia get to weigh in on this. And certainly someone from Washington can; the economic ties between Alaska and Washington are deep and tangled.

    It works the other way to. Don Young gets to have his staff change a bill after it has been voted on to place a highway interchange in Florida closer to where his campaign contributors want it to be. If Young doesn’t want outside people interfering in Alaska on behalf of their constituents, he has to stop interfering in other states on behalf of his constituents.

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