Groups Oppose Offshore Drilling in Bristol Bay


SeafoodSource staff

Published on
April 8, 2008

Groups Oppose Offshore Drilling in Bristol Bay

Environmental groups Defenders of Wildlife and the World Wildlife Fund yesterday said the federal government's plans for oil and gas drilling in Alaska's Bristol Bay will harm commercial and recreational fishing throughout the region.

The Interior Department's Minerals Management Service (MMS) will publish a call for nominations today in the Federal Register soliciting interest in drilling in the 5.6-million-acre North Aleutian Basin. The region includes Bristol Bay, home to lucrative crab, pollock and salmon fisheries.

"Through thousands of years of careful stewardship, Alaska's indigenous peoples have maintained the healthy web of life in Bristol Bay. Now the Bush administration is encouraging the oil industry to submit maps showing where they want to drill offshore," said Richard Charter, a consultant for Defenders of Wildlife. "This is a tragic and high-risk decision destined to ultimately destroy one of America's only remaining sustainable marine ecosystems."

Energy exploration was temporarily banned in the region following the Exxon Valdez disaster in 1989.

Not only would drilling threaten commercial and recreational fishing and tourism, it also would put important marine mammal and migratory bird habitat at risk, the group contends.

"Drilling for oil and gas in Bristol Bay risks polluting one of the most productive fisheries in the country and placing people's livelihoods in jeopardy," said Margaret Williams, managing director of World Wildlife Fund's Kamchatka-Bering Sea Program. "The Bush administration's Commerce Department scientists at the National Marine Fisheries Service agree and recommended that the North Aleutian Basin planning area be deleted from the current [MMS] five-year plan. It is time for MMS to listen to sound science and halt this lease sale."

The final transfer of offshore drilling rights in Bristol Bay has been scheduled for 2011 by the Interior Department.

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