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According to a new report, “The Economic Importance of the Bristol Bay Salmon Industry.” (http://preview.tinyurl.com/BBSalmonReport), the Bristol Bay, Alaska commercial salmon fishery is the world’s most valuable wild salmon fishery and in total produces an annual value of $1.5 billion.

The report says the fishery supports a significant number of jobs in the four West Coast states of Alaska, Washington, Oregon and California, and the total value of Bristol Bay salmon product exports in 2010 was $370 million, accounting for nearly 20 percent of the total value of all US seafood exports. The report, produced by researchers at the University of Alaska’s Institute for Social and Economic Research, marks the first time the full value and impact of the Bristol Bay salmon fishery has been measured.

The report comes while the US EPA is conducting a comment period of its own recent report that shows the proposed Pebble mine will destroy up to 90 miles of salmon streams and up to 4,800 acres of wetlands in the best case scenario, without accounting for potential leaks or a catastrophic failure.

The salmon report, which was commissioned by the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, notes, among other data, that the Bristol Bay salmon fishery supports 12,000 jobs in fishing and processing industries; including 4,369 fishing and processing jobs in Alaska; 3,227 in Washington state; 2,143 in Oregon; 553 in California and 1,629 in other states. The fishery also creates an additional 7,800 jobs across the country due to the multiplier effects of retailing in grocery stores, restaurants, etc ., and developing value-added products.

The Bristol Bay commercial fishery also provides about $500 million in direct income to workers across the country every year.

Some other interesting facts from the report:

About one-third of Bristol Bay fishermen and two-thirds of Bristol Bay processing workers live in West Coast states.

Almost all major Bristol Bay processing companies are based in Seattle.

Most of the supplies and services used in fishing and processing are purchased in Washington State.

Significant secondary processing of Bristol Bay salmon products occurs in Washington and Oregon.

Of the report, US Senator Patty Murray of Washington said, “I am pleased a study has been done to detail the economic importance of the salmon industry in Bristol Bay. This report confirms what we have known for years – that it is not just Alaskans who depend on Bristol Bay for their personal income and livelihoods. Over 3,000 Washingtonians make their living off Bristol Bay’s salmon runs.

Representative Jim McDermott, also of Washington, said, “There are few issues that are more black and white than protecting Bristol Bay. EPA’s draft assessment and this economic impact study both confirm that the proposed Pebble mine would be bad for fish and bad for fishermen. With 3,000 Washington state jobs at stake, we can’t afford the ecological or economic risk.”

This hugely successful fishery is entirely a gillnet fishery, with citizens of Washington State making up 34 percent of the drift gillnet fleet and almost 14 percent of the setnet permit holders. While Washington Congressional representatives Murray and McDermott are right to point out the benefits of the Bristol Bay gillnet fishery, It would be more appropriate for them to lend their voices to the Washington gillnet fishery, which is successful in its own right but under attack by the environmental and sport fishing lobbies, as well as the governors of both Oregon and Washington. The coalition has managed to secure the closure of the Columbia River commercial gillnet fishery with nothing more than campaign contributions and spurious claims of environmental disaster. If the Washington and Oregon executives and their contributors are able to close the Columbia to commercial gillnetting, where will they stop? The same groups that pour money in to local Oregon and Washington campaigns will no doubt set their sights on Bristol Bay.

For further information on the Bristol Bay fishery, contact Bob Waldrop: bdrop@bbrsda.com. To keep gillnetting a legal, viable and healthy fishery, contact your local representative.

– Chris Philips