Bristol Bay wants better COVID-19 protection plan

Bristol Bay spokespersons for the region’s health, economic, housing and tribal entities say the state health mandate for independent commercial fishermen coming to harvest wild salmon falls short of what is needed to protect the area’s population.

Their concerns, outlined in a letter to Gov. Mike Dunleavy, criticizes Mandate 17 for its assumption that incoming fishermen will self-quarantine upon reaching Bristol Bay communities and its lack of a mandatory testing component to screen those arriving.

“With respect to the potential this virus has to overload hospitals and create a hotspot in Bristol Bay, a medically based, actionable and enforceable plan with quarantine taking place in locations with adequate health care is essential for the fishery to proceed,” the Bristol Bay working group told Dunleavy.

Mandate 17 fails to provide any adequate testing for the Bristol Bay fishery and or enforcement for quarantine and social distancing measures and falls extremely short of adequate public health and safety measures our medical professionals are recommending, they said.

The letter was signed by Robert Clark, president and CEO of the Bristol Bay Area Health Corp.; Jason Metrokin, president and CEO of Bristol Bay Native Corp.; Norm Van Vactor, president and CEO of Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp.; Ralph Andersen, president and CEO of Bristol Bay Native Association; Robert Heyano, president of United Tribes of Bristol Bay; and Brenda Akelkok, executive director of the Bristol Bay Housing Authority.

The regional leaders urged the governor to work directly with local communities to create a Bristol Bay addendum to the statewide mandate that focuses specifically on Bristol Bay, where through early May nobody had tested positive for COVID-19.

The group reiterated its demand made in a letter of April 17 that unless the state provides protections deemed necessary for the health and safety of Bristol Bay residents and the fishing fleet, that the 2020 Bristol Bay salmon season should be shut down.

State officials have said repeatedly that they are in contact with community leaders and are working with them to assure such safety measures are in place.