Cantwell Presses Department of Commerce Nominee on Bristol Bay, Threats to Pacific Salmon

Cantwell: Proposed mine at Bristol Bay a “major threat to pacific salmon”

WASHINGTON, D.C. – At a hearing today to consider Dr. Neil Jacobs to be the next Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, pressed Dr. Jacobs on whether he supports funding for salmon recovery, as well as whether he supports efforts to protect salmon from the Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay, Alaska.

In her questioning, Cantwell secured commitments from Dr. Jacobs to support an increase in fishery stock assessment and survey funding, as well as to support funding for salmon recovery, habitat restoration, and salmon hatchery production.

During the hearing, Cantwell also raised the issue of fishery disaster relief, highlighting that “Tribes in Washington state experienced disasters as far back as 2013 and have been waiting for funding that was appropriated by Congress nearly two years ago.”

Cantwell asked Dr. Jacobs whether he supported the Fishery Failures: Urgently Needed Disaster Declarations Act, a bill Cantwell worked on with the chairman of the committee, Roger Wicker (R-MS), that would improve the federal Fishery Resource Disaster Relief program and ensure more timely disaster relief for impacted communities. Dr. Jacobs said that he supported the Wicker-Cantwell legislation.

Later in her questioning, Cantwell turned to the issue of the proposed Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay, a controversial project that would have devastating impacts on one of the largest salmon fisheries in the world, which 40-60 million sockeye salmon return to each year.

“What about Bristol Bay? Isn’t this a major threat to Pacific salmon?,” Cantwell asked.

“There’s five salmon species there, it’s obviously an important ground. There’s also other recreational fish species there, so we’re definitely engaged in a targeted way and certainly view it as something that’s important,” Dr. Jacobs replied.

“I hope you mean targeted in saying how devastating it would be if you had a gold mine in the middle of the largest headwaters for the salmon,” Cantwell responded.

Senator Cantwell has long fought to protect the Bristol Bay watershed and its important environmental and economic place in the Pacific Northwest. In September, Cantwell pressed NOAA officials for answers on why the agency had chosen not to conduct a full consultation on the controversial Pebble Mine. This came after she slammed the Trump administration’s July decision to withdraw protections from Bristol Bay, a move that could allow the Pebble Mine to go forward. In May of 2018, Cantwell called on the Trump administration to hold public meetings in Washington state on the proposal and increase transparency for the permitting process.

Throughout her time in the Senate, Cantwell has prioritized working on issues that impact the fishing industry. In 2018, she helped secure $200 million in federal funding to help communities with declared fisheries disasters, and in 2015 she introduced bipartisan legislation to create a national ocean acidification monitoring strategy to prioritize investments in ocean acidification sensors to areas that need it most.

Video of Senator Cantwell’s Q&A with Dr. Jacobs is available HERE, and audio is HERE.