Mayor urges closure of this year’s $300 million Bristol Bay commercial salmon fishery

“There is no way to prevent a potential mass disease situation”.

In a letter, the Mayor City of Dillingham and First Chief have asked the state and Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy to shut down one of the world’s largest salmon runs because of the coronavirus.

Dillingham Mayor Alice Ruby and First Chief Thomas Tilden of the Curyung Tribal Council outlined that the upcoming commercial fishing season has three critical segments; fish, processors and fishermen/women.

Mayor Alice Ruby. PHOTO: Dillinghamak

On Tuesday, SalmonBusiness wrote that the health care system in southwestern Alaska may be unsuited for the influx of fisherman and seasonal workers that are expected to arrive in the next coming weeks.

Southwestern Alaska, Dillingham is the economic, transportation hub for western Bristol Bay, and facilities for fish processing, cold storage for Icicle, Peter Pan, and Trident’s fish processing plants.

During the fishing season, the towns’ 7000 population can double, even triple.

Mass disease situation

“Processors that operate in our community will bring hundreds, if not thousands, of workers to and through Dillingham,” the letter read. “There is no way to prevent a potential mass disease situation”.

“Dillingham and our neighbouring communities will soon be inundated by the entry of thousands of people; some or all who may be carriers of the Corona Virus. Our community does not have the capability to control the movement of this group. This is unacceptable and places us in an impossible situation. If your office is not prepared to address this critical problem, then we may find the need to do so. We don’t want to find ourselves in conflict with the State of Alaska, especially when our objectives are the same.”

“The City of Dillingham and Curyung Tribal Council want to keep the residents of our community, our region and our state safe,” the letter reads. “We request that you take immediate action to control the impacts of the entry of the virus to our state, our region and our community by serious consideration to closing the upcoming Bristol Bay commercial salmon fishery.”

A total of 48.95 million sockeye salmon are expected to return to Bristol Bay in 2020 worth millions. PHOTO: Sockeye salmon

Talking to Anchorage Daily News Vincent-Lang, the Fish and Game commissioner said: “It is premature to decide on the ultimate fate of the Bristol Bay salmon fishery at this time. Things are changing rapidly.” The publication reported that the fishery broke records with a preliminary value of USD 306.5 million, the highest recorded.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game forecasted that a total of 48.95 million sockeye salmon are expected to return to Bristol Bay in 2020.