Fact Sheet

Success Story: Bristol Bay - A National Treasure

The Facts

Alaska's ecologically rich Bristol Bay and the southeastern Bering Sea are home to some of the best-managed, most-prolific fisheries in the world, including the largest runs of wild sockeye salmon anywhere and abundant stocks of cod, crab, halibut, herring and pollock. The area's $2 billion-a-year fishing industry is a powerful economic engine supporting thousands of fishermen from Alaska and the West Coast—and contributing 40 percent of the nation's seafood. Bristol Bay Native communities rely on ocean and coastal resources for their livelihoods and their long-standing subsistence traditions.

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The Challenge

The campaign to protect the nation's “fish basket” dates to 1986, when the federal government offered 5.6 million acres at the southern end of Bristol Bay for oil and gas leasing despite vehement opposition from local communities, the fishing industry and the state of Alaska. Environmental threats to the fisheries from oil and gas development include disruption from seismic testing, air pollution from ship traffic and the ever-present risk of oil spills. The area's harsh weather, rough seas, ice and strong currents would make cleanup and containment of an oil spill difficult, if not impossible.

After the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, Congress included Bristol Bay in a nearly nationwide moratorium on offshore drilling and spent more than $100 million in taxpayer funds to buy back oil leases. President Bill Clinton added a second layer of protection in 1998, using his power under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to withdraw Bristol Bay from leasing consideration until 2012. But in 2003 Congress lifted its moratorium, and in 2007 President George W. Bush canceled President Clinton's withdrawal. That decision reopened 5.6 million acres of Bristol Bay to oil drilling.

Fisheries, tourism and environmental values in Alaska's Bristol Bay make the area a national treasure and inappropriate for oil and gas drilling. -U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar

Our Goal

The Pew Environment Group's Ocean's North U.S. campaign works closely with Alaska Native communities to promote science-based stewardship of the U.S. Arctic Ocean, including the Beaufort, Chukchi and Bering seas.

With fish stocks declining around the globe, the nation cannot afford to put Bristol Bay's vibrant fisheries at risk. Our goal is to permanently protect the ecologically rich region and its world-class fisheries from offshore oil and gas development.

The Results

In March 2010, the Obama administration canceled the lease sale that had been scheduled for 2011 and withdrew Bristol Bay from consideration for oil and gas development until 2017. The decision came after Oceans North U.S. and its partners worked with conservationists, fishermen and Alaska Native communities to raise concerns about the impacts of drilling on this incredibly rich environment. In announcing the withdrawal, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said, “Fisheries, tourism and environmental values in Alaska's Bristol Bay make the area a national treasure and inappropriate for oil and gas drilling.”

What You Can Do

President Obama has taken a major step in the right direction by protecting Bristol Bay over the short term. But history has shown that this step can be reversed. It is critical that his administration and Congress work with Bristol Bay stakeholders and communities toward permanent protection of this pristine region that feeds our country, yields thousands of jobs and provides a legacy for future generations.

Contact us to voice your support, and sign up for our action alerts to get involved.

You can make a difference in preserving Bristol Bay for years to come.