The start of the 2021 Bristol Bay sportfishing opener looked drastically different than last year.
In 2020, we barely operated at capacity due to Covid-19 restrictions, and a dark and somber cloud — a decision on the key federal permit for the proposed Pebble mine — loomed over us. Fast forward a year later, and we took full crews out to open the 2021 season with excitement and hope knowing Pebble’s permit was denied. While we support responsible development, including mining, Pebble is the epitome of irresponsible development, and it was great to see the government acknowledge that with the permit denial. A sense of normalcy seemed to appear after nearly 20 years of fighting the foreign mining company that threatens our businesses and the families that have called Bristol Bay home for generations.
Our outlook is hopeful and promising, but not naïve. We know that Pebble has entered the appeal process for the permit, and we are still facing a proposal that will undoubtedly destroy a world-class fishery that fuels a $1.5 billion economy, 15,000 annual jobs and a way of life for the Indigenous people of Bristol Bay. Without durable protections in place for the people and fish of Bristol Bay, we will have to continue spending time fighting Pebble, when we’d rather be thinking about the future of our children and livelihoods.
We’ve made it clear to our elected officials that we want a lasting assurance that Pebble or any other mining initiative won’t come back in the future. Sen. Lisa Murkowski has heard us, and we thank her for listening to local stakeholders and taking meaningful steps in the right direction for the next chapter for Bristol Bay. The senator’s commitment to legislation ensures that Bristol Bay will get the protections it needs and deserves, and shows her commitment to Alaska’s businesses, families and our communities.
With work to come from Alaska to Washington, D.C., our message to other elected officials will continue to be clear: there is no place for the proposed Pebble mine — or any other industrial mining initiative — in Bristol Bay’s near or distant future.
As businesses owners, we believe that congressional legislation, paired with Clean Water Act protections, can be wielded to permanently safeguard the most prolific sockeye salmon fishery on the planet — the foundation of our businesses. Durable protections ensure that our children can take over our businesses, people can continue to bring money into our state to experience “once-in-a-lifetime” fishing and hunting trips, and this national resource will continue to thrive.
With Sen. Murkowski fighting with us on legislation, the future we want for Bristol Bay finally feels attainable. We know we have our work cut out for us, but we are hopeful that going into the opener next year we will have the guarantee that our homes, our jobs and businesses and our families are protected indefinitely.
Brian Kraft is the owner of Alaska Sportsman’s Lodge on the Kvichak River and lives in Igiugig and Anchorage.
Nanci Morris Lyon is the co-owner of Bear Trail lodge in Naknek and has lived and worked in the Bristol Bay region for over 30 years.
Mike McDowell owns the Kvichak Lodge and has operated his business for over three decades. Mike lives in Anchorage in the off-season.