Offshore Drilling Could Destroy Bristol Bay Fisheries

Defenders of Wildlife opposes Interior Department approval of new leases

(04/08/2008) -

ANCHORAGE, Alaska –Today’s announcement by the Department of the Interior inviting offshore oil and gas drilling throughout Alaska’s fishery-rich Bristol Bay could undermine commercial and recreational fishing throughout the region, Defenders of Wildlife warned. It also puts at risk important marine mammal and migratory bird habitat.

“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.”

The Interior Department will publish a “Call for Nominations” today in the Federal Register, soliciting oil company interest in drilling offshore in the 5.6 million acre “North Aleutian Basin,” including the fragile waters of Bristol Bay. Bristol Bay is home to a sustainable commercial fishing industry that generates, on average, at least $95 million per year in revenues for the region. 

Sport fishing and related tourism throughout Southwest Alaska provides an additional $90 million per year to local economies. Subsistence uses of Bristol Bay’s living marine resources also provide important services to local residents.

Former Interior Secretary James Watt first leased federal offshore drilling rights in Bristol Bay in the 1980’s over the objections of the fishing industry. A subsequent bipartisan congressional drilling ban was placed on the region as a result of the unsuccessful cleanup of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound. Alaska’s Senator Ted Stevens led a successful effort to lift this annual congressional protection in 2003, and President Bush removed a similar executive offshore leasing deferral for Bristol Bay in January of 2007, leading to today’s approval of new drilling preparations by the Interior Department. 

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

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Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities.  With more than 1 mission members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come.  For more information, visit www.defenders.org.

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Contact(s):

Richard Charter, (707) 696-1363
Sandra Purohit, (202) 772-0250