On April 1, 2019, six Bristol Bay fishermen filed a lawsuit financed by the Pebble Limited Partnership against the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association (BBRSDA) alleging it was spending funds outside of its statutory purposes. Today, Alaska Superior Court Judge Yvonne Lamoureux dismissed the case against BBRSDA and the other named defendants who received funding from BBRSDA. Judge Lamoureux agreed with BBRSDA that it was acting within its statutory purpose of promoting the Bristol Bay fishery in opposing the Pebble Mine, which could have a devastating effect on the commercial fishery it seeks to support and enhance.
“The BBRSDA is pleased with the outcome of this case for the sake of our current and future members,” said Andy Wink, Executive Director of BBRSDA. “Bristol Bay is home to the largest, most valuable wild salmon runs in the world, and our organization seeks to maximize the sustained economic value of the Bristol Bay salmon fishery through a wide range of activities, including, but not limited to marketing.
The case examined the manner in which BBRSDA could achieve its mission, and agreed that the BBRSDA may take up a broad range of activities in support of its goals. Opposing or seeking to improve the development of what would likely become the largest open-pit copper mine at the headwaters is clearly aligned with BBRSDA’s mission and the statutory language which created the organization.
This lawsuit centered on the legal interpretation of the RSDA’s enabling statute, and the Court found, “The plain meaning of the text of AS 44.33.065 does not support Plaintiffs’ narrow view of what RSDAs are authorized to do to promote seafood products and the commercial fishing industry in the region.” The Court’s decision went on to note, “BBRSDA’s chosen methods of promotion in an effort to maximize both the abundance and value of seafood in its region via the Contracts appear consistent with and in furtherance of its purposes.”
Furthermore, the court’s decision noted that, “Interpreting the statute as restricting RSDA’s abilities to devote efforts regarding environmental concerns in their regions has the potential to produce some absurd results. For example, a RSDA could advertise and market its salmon as wild, pristine, and sustainable but would not be able to spend funds in a way to keep those brand identities authentic in its view or spend funds to signal to its consumers its efforts to maintain that brand identity.”
“The value of our fishery is higher than it's ever been,” said BBRSDA board president Mike Friccero. “Our organization is passionate about connecting consumers with the resource and the fisherman who catch it in a way that celebrates the amazing place that is Bristol Bay, Alaska. We are proud to be building a better future for Alaska’s seafood industry and protecting a “place that’s always been” not only for our members, but all our future customers around the world.”