President Obama on Tuesday declared Bristol Bay "a beautiful natural wonder" and designated its salmon-rich waters indefinitely off limits for oil and gas leasing.
Environmentalists say the move provides significant protection not just for the iconic Bristol Bay sockeye salmon, but for crab, herring, halibut and groundfish, including the lucrative pollock fishery. And salmon returning to the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers pass through the waters that had been considered for drilling.
"Hey, everybody," President Obama said in a videotaped message posted Tuesday on YouTube. "Earlier today I took action to make sure that one of America's greatest natural resources and a massive economic engine not only for Alaska but for America, Bristol Bay, is preserved for future generations."
Some 40 percent of the nation's wild-caught seafood comes from Bristol Bay, and its waters have supported Alaska Native people for centuries, the president said.
"It's something that's too precious for us to just be putting out to the highest bidder," Obama said.