EPA answering mayday to protect fish

commentMay 26, 2012 

This time of year I tend to get nostalgic about commercial fishing. I miss the nocturnal calm of wheel watch and still feel lucky to be alive when recalling some of the more harrowing moments.

We were always eager to get into port after a stormy trip across the Gulf. Once again we'd survived to hear the most amazing voice ever on the radio. Peggy Dyson of Kodiak would come on the radio twice a day. "Hello all mariners, hello all mariners, this is WBH-Two-Nine Kodiak."

Peggy was our lifeline to land life. She'd give baseball scores, announcements of babies born and death notices. This was before cellphones and fax machines. I don't know that she ever slept; it felt like she was always there for us.

And she saved lives. When F/V Mary Lou issued a mayday, the crew was unable to relay its position. Peggy knew the Mary Lou's last location and notified Coast Guard rescuers. Because of her knowledge and direction, three of the five crewmen were saved.

Suffice it to say, Peggy earned every bit of her Coast Guard Meritorious Public Service Award in 1999.

I don't remember ever hearing a fisherman in duress say, "Look, Peggy, I've got real problems with an engine fire here, but for the love of God and all that is holy, do not call that overreaching federal government."

Peggy knew exactly who to call when we were in peril: the feds, in this case, the Coast Guard.

Last week the Environmental Protection Agency released "An Assessment of Potential Mining Impacts on Salmon Ecosystems of Bristol Bay, Alaska."

Gov. Sean Parnell, his attorney general, foreign-owned mining companies, both our U.S. senators and KGOP all denounced the "overreaching federal government" for coming to Alaska and doing a scientific analysis. Allow me to point out the obvious: EPA hasn't overreached. The agency came in response to a mayday from Alaska Native tribes, a regional Native corporation, commercial fishermen and a boatload of other Alaskans from across the state.

This isn't an invasion by the EPA, it's a rescue.

Irony drips from the history books when it comes to Bristol Bay. Perhaps the governor and his minions aren't aware that the reason the state owns the headwaters of the world's most prolific sockeye salmon fishery is that Alaska traded land specifically to preserve fish habitat.

The feds owned nearly the entire Bristol Bay watershed from 1967 to 1971. (For thousands of years, First Alaskans believed that future generations were the true owners.) During that time, the Alaska Legislature repeatedly introduced resolutions requesting that the feds protect the fish habitat of Bristol Bay.

In 1970, both houses unanimously voted for the "Bristol Bay Fisheries Reserve." Gov. Keith Miller vetoed it because he felt the state didn't have the jurisdiction to tell the feds what to do with federal land.

In 1971, the federal Bureau of Land Management said it would protect the watershed because "the solution to this situation is to maintain the commercial fisher spawning grounds and their watersheds in a primitive or wilderness status."

Later that year, Congress enacted the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. However, Cook Inlet Regional Corporation went to court claiming it was only allowed to select "mountain tops and glaciers" because the state had already claimed so much of the developable land in their region.

In 1976, the state acquired the lands at Pebble to protect fish. This occurred when the U.S. Congress and Alaska Legislature ratified the Cook Inlet Land Exchange, by which the state relinquished a half million acres on the Kenai Peninsula, Beluga Lake areas and Mat-Su valleys to CIRI. In return, the state acquired 1.2 million acres, including a half-million acres in the Kvichak and Nushagak drainages. This included the exact townships and lands of the Pebble deposit.

This was the biggest land trade in the history of the United States that didn't occur by war or purchase. The state acquired the lands at Pebble to protect fish.

Portions of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act were enacted on the premise that the state would obtain lands surrounding the fishery to protect it. Preserves were debated and dismissed because the state's commitment to the conservation of the fish runs was so strong.

Any claim by Gov. Parnell or his fellow travelers that the EPA is overstepping its jurisdiction by completing a watershed assessment demonstrates either complete ignorance of our history or total disregard for the responsibility he inherited to preserve an Alaska treasure.


Shannyn Moore can be heard weekdays from 6 to 9 p.m. on KOAN 1020 AM and 95.5 FM radio. Her weekly TV show can be seen Saturdays and Sundays at 3 p.m. statewide on ABC affiliates KYUR Anchorage, KATN Fairbanks and KJUD Juneau.

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