ANCHORAGE - The state Board of Fisheries voted to create a panel to evaluate whether protections for fisheries in Bristol Bay need to be strengthened because of the Pebble Mine project.
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The seven-member board decided Monday against forming a fisheries refuge, opting instead for more study of the issue. The panel will be composed of three of the seven board members.
The board cannot create a refuge. It can only recommend one to the Legislature.
The original board proposal, filed by Homer resident George Matz, asked the board to lend its support to creating a refuge in the Upper Talarik, Lower Talarik and Koktuli drainages.
The board took up the topic during its Dillingham meeting that began Dec. 4 and is wrapping up this week.
The board was besieged with testimony from people who flew in from all over Alaska and as far away as Washington, D.C. Among those weighing in: commercial fishermen, attorneys, biologists and Native villagers in the region.
The proposal's backers said the refuge would protect Bristol Bay fisheries from potential harm from mining.
Northern Dynasty, which hopes to develop the gold, copper and molybdenum deposit near Iliamna Lake, opposed the proposal, claiming it was a thinly veiled attempt to stop the mine. Northern Dynasty also told the board that existing state rules are sufficient to protect fisheries.
According to a faxed copy of the board's action Monday, the panel will:
Review the state's protections for fish in the Bristol Bay region and decide whether more are needed.
Review options such as creating a state fisheries refuge in Bristol Bay if additional protective measures are deemed necessary.
Consider expanding the original proposal for a fisheries refuge - limited to drainages adjacent to Pebble - to include all waters of the Nushagak and Kvichak river drainages.
Monitor any pending state legislation related to Bristol Bay fisheries protection and advise the Board of Fisheries.