Judge dismisses Pebble-funded lawsuit against BBRSDA

Boats tie up at Dillingham’s small boat harbor in late July 2018, with many waiting to be pulled from the water at high tide. (Photo by Austin Fast / KDLG)

Judge Yvonne Lamoureaux ruled Friday that the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association was within its authority to fund groups opposed to the proposed Pebble Mine.

This decision comes a week after the Dunleavy administration threw its support behind the plaintiffs.

Last month, with the financial backing of Pebble Limited Partnership, six commercial fishermen sued the association. They challenged more than $250,000 in funds it had spent in contracts with the United Tribes of Bristol Bay and SalmonState – two groups that advocate against Pebble. Claims against those groups, which were co-defendants in the lawsuit, were dismissed as well.

BBRSDA had filed a motion to dismiss the case in April. Attorney Scott Kendall said the ruling affirmed the association’s right to take a position on Pebble.

“…And that their mission of promoting and protecting Bristol Bay seafood was well served by what they were doing,” he said. “And that really, completely agreed with the position of BBRSDA, which is that they and their board are free to choose the methods by which to protect their fishery.”

Kendall said a ruling in favor of the lawsuit would have been “absurd.”

“Their result would be, BBRSDA would have to ignore the existence of Pebble Mine, pretend like it doesn’t exist for purposes of marketing their salmon,” he said.

The ruling focused on the scope of the association’s mission to promote Bristol Bay seafood. The fishermen who sued the association don’t view funding groups opposed to Pebble as part of BBRSDA’s purview. But the judge agreed with the defendants, holding that state statutes define promotion in broad terms.

The ruling focused on the scope of BBRSDA’s mission to promote and market seafood. The fishermen suing the association define that mission narrowly, and don’t view environmental protection as part of the association’s purview. BBRSDA argued that its activities fall within the broader definition of promoting seafood. The court agreed, holding that state statutes define promotion in broad terms. It also pointed out that the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development does not define what that mission entails.

“Well, you know, I’m very disappointed in the judge’s decision to dismiss the lawsuit,” said Abe Williams, one of the plaintiffs in the case. 

Williams has been a commercial fisherman for almost four decades and works for Pebble as the director of regional affairs. He still believes BBRSDA’s activities regarding Pebble are outside its mission.

“I personally want them marketing my salmon,” Williams said. “I think United Tribes and SalmonState and commercial fishermen alike that want to comment on the proposed Pebble Mine can certainly do so at their own expense, and not necessarily mine.”

Williams says that if the association doesn’t change their approach, he would like the option to leave the association and put the 1 percent tax he pays toward his own business efforts. He and his fellow plaintiffs are now deciding their next move. They have 30 days to file an appeal.

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