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People of Bristol Bay give thanks, and aim to protect the reason

Centuries ago, the Eskimo, Indian and Aleut people settled in the Bristol Bay region to access the incredible salmon runs that bless the region's rivers and streams. Today the Yup'ik, Dena'ina and Sugpiaq who call Bristol Bay home, work together to both sustain our Native way of life and secure a better future for ourselves and generations to come. Because of this constant care and stewardship, Bristol Bay's fisheries remain the envy of the world.

This Thanksgiving, we ask all Alaskans to take a moment to reflect on all of the God-given, abundant resources that bless our state, especially the unparalleled fishery that is Bristol Bay.

Bristol Bay's tribal communities are situated in the watersheds of this world-renowned resource. The pristine lakes and rivers that empty into Bristol Bay support rearing, spawning and harvesting of all five species of Pacific salmon, as well as countless other species. Collectively, the fishery is the economic foundation for the region while harvesting and sharing of subsistence resources is the social and cultural cornerstone of life in Bristol Bay. Although fish and wildlife feed our families, the region has other natural resources that require incorporating the values of traditional stewardship with prudent management.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game calculates that 40.6 million sockeye salmon returned to Bristol Bay's rivers and streams in 2014 and fishermen harvested 30.9 million salmon from the region's inshore waters. In April 2013, an economic study of Bristol Bay salmon fisheries published by the University of Alaska Anchorage's Institute of Social and Economic Research confirmed that Bristol Bay supports the most valuable sockeye salmon fishery in the world. The fishery generate 5,852 year-round jobs nationwide and 11,921 seasonal fishing and processing jobs in Bristol Bay that combined produces $411.7 million in earnings for these workers and creates a total economic output value of $1.2 billion. Recently, Fish and Game released the 2015 salmon forecast which projects that our "healthy and sustainable" salmon fishery will see one of the largest runs in 20 years.

By working together, Bristol Bay Native Corp., our for-profit corporation established through the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, and Bristol Bay Native Association, our tribal consortium comprised of the 31 federally recognized tribal governments in the region, continue the traditions of exploration and cooperation set forth by our ancestors. Our organizations seek partnerships with local stakeholders, industry and our tribes, as well as state, federal and municipal governments in order to provide more opportunities and benefits for our shareholders and tribal members, as well as their families, which in turn benefit all Alaskans.

Our commitment is, as it has always been, to enrich the lives of our people through economic development, employment and educational opportunities, and responsible resource management. To us, this means permanent protection for the North Aleutian Basin from the risks of offshore drilling, and meaningful mining restrictions that will protect Bristol Bay from the risks of any large-scale efforts to mine the Pebble deposit. The risks of these endeavors are simply too great and contravene our 'Fish First' philosophy, which is founded in the traditional values of stewardship that we carry forward into the future. We support opportunities that can meet our high standards of fiscal, environmental and social sustainability and that are in the best long-term interests of our shareholders and tribal members.

As the present stewards of Bristol Bay, we owe this to our ancestors who settled here because of the region's abundant salmon resources, and we are truly blessed that they so wisely managed these resources. Today as Alaskans, we must protect the fish, wildlife and resources of Bristol Bay for future generations who will continue to make a living by harvesting, sharing and nurturing the abundant resources of our region. This Thanksgiving, please join us in being thankful for the natural bounty of this incredible region of our state – "a place that's always been."

Jason Metrokin is president and CEO of Bristol Bay Native Corp., the Native regional for-profit corporation that has more than 9,800 shareholders who share ancestral ties to the Bristol Bay region. Ralph Andersen is president and CEO of Bristol Bay Native Association, a consortium of all 31 federally recognized Bristol Bay tribes.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com

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