For President Obama his visit to Dillingham was another day on the job of leading the free world. It fit right into his job description of staying up to speed and making decisions on the most pressing issues, concerns and opportunities for American people. For those of us who fish salmon in Alaska and the residents of the Bristol Bay watershed, the President’s visit was nothing less than extraordinary! For that day the global news focused on our industry, jobs, way of life and dependence on the bounty of Wild Alaskan Salmon. We had a spotlight on our ordinary Alaskan lives in a way that we never have before and hopefully won over hearts and minds of other Americans and the rest of the world with a level of attention we never could have imagined. It means everything for the world to see how important our Wild Salmon – a global food source – are to us in a very local and personal way and to the whole country as a sustainable natural resource that is beyond compare.
Personally my eyes filled with tears while I stood with the crowd of Dillinghamers cheering and waving signs. Holding my infant daughter and watching President Obama’s massive airforce jet that dwarfed the village airport as it touched down took my breath away. The planes tail reached far above the tall trees surrounding the airport symbolizing the enormity of the event. For many years I’ve worked with incredible leaders and communities in Bristol Bay along with thousands of other Bristol Bay fishermen who participate in the worlds most incredible wild salmon fishery. Together we have worked to protect the resource on which we depend from the threat of the now-famed Pebble mine and other deposits that, if developed, would cause irreparable harm to Bristol Bay’s intact and untouched upstream salmon habitat.
As a young twenty-something going boat to boat to inform fellow fishermen about the threat of Pebble it was all we could hope for to get a headline in the Anchorage Daily News; a decade later, after so much hard work, a presidential visit allowing us to capture global headlines was beyond my wildest dreams. To hold a “protect Bristol Bay” sign, with my second baby in a carrier on my chest and have Barack Obama see us, I mean really see us, smile and wave was just SO COOL! A day I’ll never forget. Hooray for Bristol Bay.
Lindsey Bloom is an Alaskan fisherman and consultant who works with groups to advocate for policies that support salmon habitat protection and sustainable development for Alaskan communities.
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