ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — President Barack Obama announced Tuesday that he's removing more than 52,000 square miles (135,000 sq. kilometers) of waters off Alaska's coast from consideration for oil and gas exploration or drilling.
The president said in a video announcement that Bristol Bay and nearby waters, covering an area roughly the size of Florida, would be withdrawn from consideration for petroleum leases. He called Bristol Bay one of the country's great natural resources and a massive economic engine.
"It's something that's too precious for us to be putting out to the highest bidder," Obama said.
Bristol Bay has supported Native Americans in the Alaska region for centuries, he said.
"It supports about $2 billion in the commercial fishing industry," Obama said. "It supplies America with 40 percent of its wild-caught seafood."
The bay is north of the Alaska Peninsula, which juts out west from mainland Alaska at the start of the Aleutian Islands chain.
Petroleum leases sold there in the mid-1980s were bought back in 1995 at taxpayer expense for $95 million after the Exxon Valdez spill, said Marilyn Heiman, U.S. Arctic director for Pew Charitable Trusts. Fisheries around the world are in decline, but Bristol Bay's well-managed fisheries are some of the most productive in the world and worthy of protection, she said.
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