The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released its draft scientific study of the Bristol Bay watershed and its natural resources. Now public comments are open. EPA’s report responds to growing interest in large-scale mining in the watershed from a number of stakeholders and local communities with a range of views and will lead to a better understanding of potential environmental impacts of these activities on the watershed. Under the Clean Water Act, EPA has the authority and responsibility to protect the nation’s water and perform scientific studies that enhance the agency’s and the public’s knowledge of water resources. EPA’s focus in the assessment is scientific and technical; the agency has made no judgments about the use of its regulatory authority under the Clean Water Act and the draft study in no way prejudges future consideration of proposed mining activities.
The draft assessment focused on the Nushagak and Kvichak watersheds, which produce up to half of all Bristol Bay salmon and are open to mining development under Alaska law.
Key findings in EPA’s draft assessment include that all five species of North American Pacific salmon are found in Bristol Bay. “The Bristol Bay watershed supports the largest sockeye salmon fishery in the world. The Kvichak River produces more sockeye salmon than any other river in the world. The Nushagak River is the fourth largest producer of Chinook salmon in North America.
Bristol Bay’s wild salmon fishery and other ecological resources provide at least 14,000 full and part-time jobs and is valued at about $480 million annually. The average annual run of sockeye salmon is about 37.5 million fish. Bristol Bay provides habitat for numerous animal species, including 35 fish species, more than 190 bird species and 40 animal species.
EPA will take public comment on the draft assessment until July 23. The agency has also scheduled public meetings in June and will host webinars for people interested in learning more about the assessment. Read the draft and make comments at: http://www.epa.gov/region10/bristolbay/F
With the goal of getting answers to how the federal government plans to respond to tsunami debris fouling the shorelines of Alaska and the West Coast, U.S. Sen. Mark Begich chaired a subcommittee hearing that included testimony from the U.S. Coast Guard and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Following the hearing, Begich spoke with NOAA Administrator Dr. Jane Lubchenco to discuss next steps for addressing the debris, and requested $45 million over two years for clean-up efforts.
“There’s three billion pounds of mostly plastic trash which will flood into our inter-tidal ecosystems and the leading edge of this tide is already here,” Begich said in his opening statement. “That is the purpose of today’s hearing. Given this clear threat, what is our national plan to stem the tide of tsunami debris?”
To fund the extensive and expensive clean-up, Begich sent a follow up letter to President Obama requesting $45 million to be made available this year and next to community groups to execute the debris clean-up.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski filed an amendment to require an analysis of the environmental and economic impacts of genetically-engineered fish by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The legislation would mean the same NOAA analysis and standards in place for federal fisheries would be required before the Food and Drug Administration (approves genetically-modified salmon.)
The FDA is presently evaluating the scientific and biological risks of so-called “Frankenfish” – but the agency is not required to evaluate how a worst-case scenario of fish escaping into the ocean ecosystem could adversely impact the seafood industry. Murkowski’s amendment would require NOAA’s research staff to prepare a review of potential drawbacks of genetically-engineered salmon becoming a reality, using the public review process Alaska’s fishermen are used to.
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