Residents vow to keep COVID-19 out of Bristol Bay

Governor asked to consider closing down 2020 salmon fishery in bay

Bristol Bay residents determined to keep the pandemic at bay have put in place their own COVID-19 health response plan and are asking the state to consider closure of the famed commercial salmon fishery in 2020.

On Monday, April 6, Dillingham Mayor Alice Ruby and Tom Tilden, first chief of the Curyung Tribal Council, sent a letter to Gov, Mike Dunleavy asking him to consider closure of the largest wild sockeye salmon commercial fishery in the world this year.  So far, says the governor’s office, there are no plans for such a closure.

Meanwhile economic, health, housing and tribal entities in Dillingham that serve the whole Bristol Bay region have advised harvesters and processors of minimum protocols to protect residents, many of whom have a long memory of the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic. The epidemic killed many of the region’s adult population, leaving hundreds of children as orphans.

“The letter doesn’t say flat out shut it down. The letter asks the governor to consider I that is going to be necessary,” said Ruby.

“There is so little known about the virus, the spread and controlling it,” she said. “We are trying to take care of ourselves. We don’t have a lot of resources. We haven’t seen any plan that appears to us to protect the residents,” she said.

“What can the state do to assure us that our health won’t be jeopardized,” Tilden asked. “We do have to start talking and coming up with solutions, but we have to work together.  The state said this was an essential resource, but we are essential too.”

Tilden noted that a lot of out-of-state harvesters and processor plant workers some from Washington state, California and Oregon, three states already hard hit by COVID-19.

“We are inviting the industry to come up with plans,” he said. “We have made suggestions to them to lessen the need for (our) health facilities.

“We need open dialogue,” Tilden said. “We haven’t shut our minds to ideas, but we need to talk. We have been talking to legislators. We need the governor in on this conversation.”

In their email of April 2, Dillingham based economic, health, utility and tribal entities told harvesters and processors that everyone arriving at all ports of entry into Bristol Bay communities by air, sea or land, including residents returning home, must immediately be transported directly from airports to a place to quarantine and remain quarantined until a follow-up test confirms they do not have the virus. If needed the industry will have to provide their own isolation facilities and the industry must also provide a medical evacuation plan,

The Bristol Bay Working Group said.

The group also said it is open to discussion with industry on potential options for controlled quarantine scenarios and/or private charter transport directly into communities where they are operating.