By James Niedzinski
---- — Fishermen from Gloucester and Alaska fish drastically different areas during different times of the year, but one thing is for certain:
They’re all in the same boat when it comes to defending and protecting an industry under siege from many sides.
That was one of the messages echoed Friday when Katherine Carscallen, captain of the fishing vessel Sea Hawk based out of Dillingham, Alaska, met with Gloucester fishermen and supporters of the commercial fishermen at a get-together organized by Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives Association President Angela Sanfilippo.
Carscallen, a 27-year-old native of Dillingham, represents numerous commercial fisheries throughout Alaska and worked together with the GFWA and local fishermen.
On Thursday, Carscallen was joined by Sanfilippo — who also serves as president and executive director of the Massachusetts Fishermen’s Partnership — and local fishermen meeting with Congressman John Tierney in Carscallen’s effort to gain support for the growing concern of a proposed mine that would threaten the Bristol Bay and surrounding salmon runs in Alaska.
Carscallen said Bristol Bay is responsible for about 60 percent of the world’s sockeye salmon production, an industry that generates roughly $500 million annually and represents about 12,000 jobs. But the pebble mine, proposed by Northern Dynasty Minerals and Anglo American, would sit near Iliama Lake and numerous rivers, creeks and wetlands that are popular spots for salmon vessels if constructed.
The mine would produce copper, gold and other minerals. While there are other mines in the state, Carscallen said, Pebble mine would be several times the size of any other mine; the effects would be disastrous to Alaska’s salmon fisheries.
She said that while the federal Environmental Protection Agency and fishermen do not typically work well together, this is an issue on which both parties can agree.
While EPA officials have not made a motion to block any proposals or permits, draft assessments show a mining operation similar to Pebble would harm wild salmon. One report indicates as much as 87 miles of possible spawning ground for fish could be lost and 4,286 acres of wetland. Yet the Army Corps of Engineers is involved in permitting the project. To view the draft assessment done by the EPA, visit cfpub.epa.gov/ncea/bristolbay/recordisplay.cfm?deid=241743.
Sanfilippo said that, by working together, commercial fishermen can improve the industry on a national level.
“We have opportunities to open lines of communication across the country to better fisheries,” she said.
While Gloucester fishermen attending Friday’s get-together are not faced with dangers of a possible mining development, they did show support for Carscallen’s cause — and said it raises further questions over the government’s role in driving the industry downward.
“It’s almost as if the barbarians are at the gates,” said Al Cottone, captain of the Gloucester-based Sabrina Maria. “It could lead to a domino affect.”
Cottone said catch share limitations and regulations put in place are damaging the local industry, which could be facing government-regulated cuts of up to 86 percent in Gulf of Maine cod landings in the new fishing year that starts March 13, pending a regional council meeting next week.
Russell Sherman of the Lady Jane criticized president Barack Obama’s administration and said the issues facing the fishing industry are going largely unnoticed.
The local fishermen agreed to contact other government officials, and write letters of support for Carscallen and her fight against the Pebble mine and for the Alaskan salmon fishery. Legislators from eight other states have done the same, Carscallen said.
James Niedzinski can be reached at 978-283-7000, x 3455 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.