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U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler urged the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday to consider the livelihoods of Southwest Washington fishermen in its decisions on an Alaska mining proposal that opponents say would damage the world’s most productive salmon fishery.

A consortium of developers has proposed a mine in the headwaters of the Kvichack and Nushagak rivers, which feed Bristol Bay in Southwest Alaska. Many Lower Columbia River commercial fishermen make the bulk of their income off that fishery, and they and conservationists fear runoff from the mine will damage the rivers and Bristol Bay.

The EPA is accepting public comment on its revised draft of the project.

In a letter to EPA Acting Administrator Bob Perciasepe, Herrera Beutler points out that last year residents of her the district held 91 commercial fishing permits for Bristol Bay. The bay is home to large sockeye, coho, chum and king salmon runs that support both commercial and recreational fishing.

“I ask that a thorough, science-based approach be used so that an accurate assessment can inform this critical decision,” Herrera Beutler said in her letter.

The EPA has said extracting billions of pounds of gold, copper and molybdenum from the region could result in the direct loss of up to 87 miles of streams and nearly 7 square miles of wetlands.

If one of the mine’s massive tailings dams failed, more than 30 miles of salmon-bearing streams would be destroyed, and others would have “greatly degraded habitat” for decades, the EPA said last year.

According to state legislators, 1,000 Washingtonians have commercial fishing licenses in Bristol Bay, and that the fishery there is worth about $200 million to this state’s economy.

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