Alaska board wants changes to fish habitat permitting process
KENAI, Alaska — The Alaska Board of Fisheries is asking the state Legislature to reconsider the state’s fish habitat permitting process.
The board sent a letter to the Legislature earlier this month asking lawmakers to review how the commission of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game issues permits in streams determined to be fish habitat, the Peninsula Clarion reported.
Any activity that may use, divert, obstruct or change the natural flow of a body of water determined to be fish habitat requires a permit, granted by Fish and Game’s commissioner. Under current law, the commissioner may grant a permit unless an activity is deemed insufficient for the proper protection of fish and game.
The board’s letter recommends legislators develop new standards for what constitutes the proper protection of fish and game. The board also suggests there be improvements made to the public notification and comment processes for fish habitat permits.
“Additional guidance is warranted for the protection of fish, to set clear expectation for permit applicants and to reduce uncertainty in predevelopment planning costs,” the letter states.
The board said there has been significant public concern that residents are not always aware when the state considers issuing a fish habitat permit in their area. It takes about four days on average to issue a permit once an application has been submitted, according to the letter.
“There are undoubtedly nuances to this efficient permitting that must be considered, and improved notification to the public for certain activities is in the public’s best interest,” the letters states.
The request from the fisheries board comes amid concerns over mining development in salmon habitat, such as the proposed Pebble Mine project near Bristol Bay.
A federal judge agreed this month to temporarily halt proceedings in a lawsuit brought by the group behind the proposed Pebble Mine against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The proceedings have been put on pause until March 20 to allow both parties time to try to resolve the case.
The Pebble Limited Partnership has alleged that EPA worked with mine critics with a predetermined goal to block the project. Attorneys for the EPA have called the lawsuit an effort to undermine an agency proposal to protect parts of the Bristol Bay region from development.