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President Bush Poised to Open Nation's 'Fish Basket' to Oil Drilling

WASHINGTON - President Bush is expected to remove protections within the next week for Bristol Bay, opening what many call America's "Fish Basket" to oil and gas drilling. Bristol Bay has been protected from offshore drilling since 1989 through the Presidential Withdrawal first declared by President George Herbert Bush in 1990. But the area is currently included in the Minerals Management Service's 5-year plan to develop the Outer Continental Shelf for oil and gas development.

"We strongly urge President Bush to leave Bristol Bay alone," said Carter Roberts, president and CEO of World Wildlife Fund. "Oil and gas drilling would jeopardize the nation's most important fishery, hundreds of communities reliant on fishing and a treasure trove of wildlife."

Bristol Bay supports a billion dollar fishery, valuable sport hunting and fishing industry, Native Alaskan cultural and subsistence values, and marine wildlife populations. It is also home to four national wildlife refuges, important herring, crab, halibut, pollock fisheries and the world's largest runs of sockeye salmon. The region also supports many marine mammals such as walruses, harbor seals, northern sea otters, and endangered species, including stellar sea lions, humpback and fin whales and the world's most endangered whale species, the north Pacific population of northern right whales.

Meanwhile Bristol Bay represents just a minor part of Alaska's oil and gas potential. Natural gas drilling at Prudhoe Bay -- where the field is delineated and the infrastructure is in place -- is a much more substantial energy source.

"Bristol Bay has enjoyed bi-partisan support and protections for it should remain in place. Bristol Bay is simply the wrong place for oil and gas drilling," continued Roberts. "We are very concerned that this type of development will harm the ecological and economic productivity of region."

Bristol Bay and the North Aleutian shelf are home to intense storms with high winds and massive seas through the winter months. Offshore infrastructure would be exposed to the full fury of these storms at a time of year when response efforts would be effectively impossible. Even the seismic testing required to find oil and gas reserves is known to disturb marine mammals and even fish and crab.