Pebble Mine developer finances lawsuit against BBRSDA
Several Bristol Bay fishermen, with financial backing from the Pebble Limited Partnership, have filed a lawsuit against the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Association (BBRSDA) for what they allege is misuse of the BBRSDA’s funds.
The lawsuit is challenging more than USD 250,000 (EUR 221,900) in BBRSDA contracts with two organizations – United Tribes of Bristol Bay and SalmonState – that oppose Pebble Mine, a proposed open pit gold, copper, and molybdenum at the headwaters that feed the world’s largest sockeye salmon run.
But Andy Wink, executive director of the BBRSDA, which has the stated purpose of maximizing the value of Bristol Bay’s seafood, said supporting educational campaigns against the proposed Pebble Mine is directly in line with its mission statement.
“Consumers choose to pay more for wild sockeye salmon because it’s a healthy, abundant, premium wild salmon species from a pristine and unspoiled environment. It’s a unique resource unlike anything else in the world,” Wink said in statement released earlier this week. “The Pebble Mine could jeopardize that, and at the very least we believe it’s important to engage in the permitting process so that if the mine does proceed, it’s built with adequate safeguards for fishermen, residents, and sockeye consumers.”
Mike Heatwole, a spokesperson for Pebble Limited Partnership, confirmed to Alaska’s KTOO Public Media that the mine developer provided financial backing for the lawsuit.
One of the fisherman plaintiffs, Abe Williams, is the director of regional affairs for Pebble Mine Limited, and once sat on the BBRSDA board.
“Over many years I’ve addressed these guys in regards to how they are utilizing our funds. There are many of us that said, ‘Listen, this organization is doing something it wasn’t designed for,’” Williams told KTOO.
Williams also said he supports the mine because it would bring jobs the region.
A public comment period for the Pebble Mine proposal is currently open until 30 May, and the BBRSDA claims that the lawsuit aims to muzzle resistance to the mine. The majority of Bristol Bay fishermen and Alaskans oppose the mine, according to recent polling.
BBRSDA was created in 2005 and membership in the organization is mandatory for most fishermen in the region. It is supported by a so-called fish tax, which requires Bristol Bay fishermen to pay one percent on their landings.