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Judge dismisses lawsuit brought by fishermen and paid for by Pebble

A lawsuit brought by a small group of Bristol Bay commercial fishermen to keep a seafood marketing group from spending money to stop the Pebble copper and gold mine has been dismissed.

Anchorage Superior Court Judge Yvonne Lamoureux said the plaintiffs did not make a valid claim. She dismissed the case on Friday.

Six fishermen, with funding from mine developer Pebble Limited Partnership, had argued that the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association had unlawfully spent $250,000 on efforts to stop the mine from being developed.

The marketing group is funded with a 1 percent tax on the harvest that Bristol Bay fishermen catch. The fishermen who sued — Gary Nielsen, Trefim Andrew, Tim Anelon, Henry Olympic, and Abe and Braden Williams -—said the group should only market seafood. Abe Williams also works for the Pebble project as a regional affairs director.

Pebble has applied with the federal government for permits to build an open-pit mine. It would be located near salmon-producing headwaters of the Bristol Bay fishery, about 200 miles southwest of Anchorage.

The marketing group has said it believes the mine could jeopardize the unspoiled environment where the salmon are caught, hurting their value. Among other actions, the group paid for a study that highlighted concerns that a failure of the mine’s tailings dam, containing finely-ground waste rock and mud, could devastate salmon streams.

Lamoureux said the fishermen who sued held a “narrow view” of the marketing group’s responsibilities under the Alaska law that governs it.

Interpreting the law to say the marketing group could not fully address environmental concerns would lead to “absurd results,” said Lamoureux.

The marketing group could market its salmon as wild, but would not be allowed to spend money to protect the authenticity of the brand, she said.

The Dunleavy administration filed an advisory brief in the case that sided with the Pebble-supported fishermen. It argued that the state Legislature authorized 12 regional seafood marketing groups in Alaska to market seafood, not fight industrial development that could impact fish habitat.

The fishermen who brought the suit have 30 days to appeal their case to the state Supreme Court, said Scott Kendall, an attorney who represented the marketing group.


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