Serving the US Seafood Industry at the Cost of Irreplaceable Wildlife

by Vins
Published: Last Updated on

In January 2019, the Center for Investigative Reporting’s Reveal reported that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke had approved a road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, a refuge meant to protect seabirds, grizzly bears, and caribou in isolation in Cold Bay, Alaska, in order to transport millions of dollars of seafood caught by Alaska fishermen to lucrative Asian markets.

The Izembek National Wildlife Refuge has been protected as one of the wildest natural spots on Earth for six decades. In July, 2018, the refuge was suddenly disturbed by seven helicopters that swooped down a total of 80 times in two days. The cause for the helicopter disruption to the refuge was an order made by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, on orders from President Donald Trump, to survey the area before beginning to bulldoze a 12-mile road through it. A year before that, Zinke signed a secret land swap agreement with Aleut Natives, on the day the federal government briefly shut down. The deal permitted the 12-mile road to be built through the Izembek Refuge, completing a 37-mile long road to the Cold Bay Airport, in exchange for the federal government being given an equal amount of Aleut land.

In taking this action, Zinke overlooked the warnings of the US Fish and Wildlife Service which had conducted a four-year study and concluded that building the road through the refuge would, according to the Reveal report,  “lead to significant degradation of irreplaceable ecological resources,” and also “jeopardize the global survival of a migratory sea goose, called the Pacific black brant, as well as the emperor goose and other waterfowl.” The Aleut have argued that the road is necessary for them to access the Cold Bay Airport in case of medical emergencies. However, Reveal’s investigation suggests that the road is more about selling seafood than saving lives. If the construction of the road goes through, the Aleut people will benefit slightly, as well as members of the US seafood industry, and seafood consumers. However, these people will only benefit at the expense of the animals protected in the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge.

Aside from a pair of articles in the Washington Post, this story has received minimal coverage in the corporate press. In addition to the original Reveal story published by Jane Kay on January 8, 2019, the story has also been covered by the Sierra Club’s EcoWatch.

Sources:

Jane Kay, “Trump’s Swap of  ‘Irreplaceable’ Wilderness Allows Millions of Dollars in Seafood Transport,” Reveal,  January 8, 2019, https://www.revealnews.org/article/trumps-swap-of-irreplaceable-wilderness-allows-millions-of-dollars-in-seafood-transport/.

“Zinke Moves to Build Road Through an Alaskan Wilderness Area,” EcoWatch (Sierra Club), April 26, 2018, www.ecowatch.com/alaska-wildlife-refuge-drilling-2530201960.html.

Student Researcher: Elise Johnson (North Central College)

Faculty Evaluator: Steve Macek (North Central College)