Last week, Pebble Limited Partnership CEO John Shively was in Washington, D.C., talking up the supposed benefits of the Pebble mine and attempting to discredit the EPA's watershed assessment. As has been the case for years with Pebble and its promoters, too often they talk out of both sides of their mouth, especially when it comes to the commercial fishing industry.
For instance, while Shively made the rounds in D.C., the Pebble partnership sent to Alaska households an expensive 26-page booklet, whose cover unequivocally states that "Pebble will only move forward with a mine that respects a thriving Bristol Bay salmon fishery." And Shively reiterated in a personally signed letter that he understands "the importance of renewable resources like Alaska salmon" and characterizes the industry as "an important economic stimulus to Alaska."
Yet while in Washington, Shively pulled a complete 180 in his views on the Alaska salmon industry. In an interview with the Alaska Public Radio Network, he said the commercial fishing industry is losing its importance and that commercial fishing is "not an answer for people who live out in Southwest Alaska." Amazingly, Shively insists that commercial fishermen from the Lower 48 "take our resource, and they go somewhere else to spend their money."
Shively's comments are outrageous and couldn't be further from the truth. Commercial fishing is one of Alaska's largest employers, accounting for over 78,000 jobs. We harvest 56 percent of the seafood produced in the U.S., and our fisheries generate more tax revenue for the state than mining.
In Bristol Bay alone, where my family has fished commercially for generations, our fishery is worth nearly $1.5 billion a year and supports 12,000 fishing and processing jobs. The jobs and economy Bristol Bay creates greatly benefit the state of Alaska, and the Bristol Bay fishery is strong enough to support a commercial fishing economy in the Lower 48 too. This is not an either or proposition, as Shively seems to think; clearly benefits and spending flow both ways, contributing to our vibrant and sustainable fishery.
In a separate interview with DC-based E&E News, Shively admitted that Pebble will impact some fish habitats but they can "create comparable habitat in that area." This is a story too many salmon fishermen have head too many times before. It's nearly impossible and terribly expensive to try to replicate salmon rearing habitat once it's gone. But Shively insists that Pebble can simply replace overnight what has taken millennia to create. Of course, you might expect that from a company that insists, without demonstrating how, that it can engineer a mine to prevent environmental damage forever.
It's clear that neither Shively nor the Pebble partnership is concerned about the commercial fishery in Bristol Bay. I only wish they would be honest with Alaskans about their intention to build the mine at any and all costs instead of saying one thing in D.C., and spending millions to tell another story in Alaska.
Shively's remarks, coupled with the partnership's recent release of an economic study based on a mine plan he previously characterized as a "fantasy proposal," show that you really can't trust anything Pebble says regarding its commitment to Alaska, its people and one of its most valuable resources. Who believes their flowery words and glossy pamphlets when Shively says that ocean acidification may "do in" the salmon fishery before Pebble does?
Pebble's consistent doublespeak is one of the primary reasons that Alaska Natives, commercial fishermen and others invited EPA to take a closer look at Pebble. As the second round of comment period concludes and the EPA moves closer to finalizing its watershed assessment for Bristol Bay, these recent statements provide further evidence that we made the right call by not simply taking for granted Pebble's "commitment" to our commercial fisheries.
Robin Samuelsen is a lifelong resident of Southwest Alaska and commercial fisherman who has held many leadership positions in the Bristol Bay region.