The annual Bristol Bay Wild Salmon Celebration will take place in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, September 12, 2023. This event celebrates the fish, water, and people of Bristol Bay, home to the world’s most prolific commercial wild sockeye salmon fishery that is responsible for producing more than half of the sockeye sold worldwide. The event is attended by Alaska’s Congressional Delegation, BBNC board members and staff, and other supporters of salmon. The event recognizes and congratulates this year’s Fish First awardees:
Born in the suburb of Chicago, Brian worked his way west through the sport of hockey, ultimately playing NCAA Division I College Hockey for the University of Alaska Anchorage before playing professionally in Europe. He then returned to Anchorage to start his raft rental company, Kraft Adventures, and to play for the local Alaska minor league hockey team, the Anchorage Aces. Brian never really fished, hunted, or spent time camping or outdoors growing up in Chicago, but Alaska changed that.
Brian currently owns two lodges in the Bristol Bay region—Alaska Sportsman’s Lodge on the Kvichak River near Igiugig and Bristol Bay Lodge on the west side of Lake Aleknagik. In 1994, Brian ran a lodge that was located near Igiugig for two seasons. Then, with the help of many friends and his business partner, David Sandlin, built Alaska Sportsman’s Lodge on the Kvichak River, about four miles downstream from Lake Iliamna.
Brian developed a strong connection with the people of Igiugig and appreciated their strong cultural values and dedication to protecting the fisheries and habitat. The summer of 2004 is when Brian first heard of the proposed Pebble mine. After some initial support of the possible economic opportunities, he learned of the devastation a project such as this would bring to the region. He started the Bristol Bay Alliance with a mission of ensuring that the people of Bristol Bay have the loudest and strongest voice as to what happens to their lands. Brian personally funded trips for Bristol Bay residents to visit and learn about mines in throughout the U.S.
Brian’s passion to help protect the region and ensure sustainable fisheries thrive in Bristol Bay was driven by the region’s residents who did not want this mine to go forward. He felt it was his calling to help bring attention to the threats the proposed mine had to the region and to gain support for stopping it.
Brian is honored to have been involved with the people of Bristol Bay to help them achieve what their desirers are for the land and future of the region. His family also played a strong role in supporting the efforts, time, financial contribution, and commitment to protecting Bristol Bay.
Nanci Morris Lyon
Nanci Morris Lyon is a long-time resident of Bristol Bay, Alaska. She lives in King Salmon, where she owns Bear Trail Lodge on the famed Naknek River. Nanci is a long-time leader in Bristol Bay conservation and has been an important voice in the fight against Pebble mine. As the first female guide in Bristol Bay, and one of the first in Alaska, she is an inspiration for many young women pursuing careers in the sport-fishing world.
Nanci was instrumental in the creation of the Bristol Bay Fly Fishing and Guide Academy, and 14 years later she continues to be the lead instructor at the Academy, currently guiding some of her past students into roles as academy instructors. She is also a role model for guides throughout the country – demonstrating and emphasizing how important it is to get involved in fisheries management and conservation as a sport-fishing professional. She has donated her time to several important Bristol Bay fisheries documents, including the Southwest Alaska Rainbow Trout management plan and the Nushagak King Salmon Management plan. Among the Bristol Bay guide circle, Nanci is known as the “Queen of the Naknek.”
Representative Mary Peltola
Rep. Mary Sattler Peltola was born in Alaska and raised on the Kuskokwim River in Kwethluk, Tuntutuliak, Platinum, and Bethel. She was just six years old when she began fishing commercially with her father.
She completed a state legislative internship during college and felt a calling to public service. At age 24 years old she won her first state election and represented the Bethel region in the Alaska State Legislature.
During her 10 years in state office she built consensus around budgets that improved lives in rural Alaska. She was a founding member of the Bush Caucus, which elevated the issues of communities off the road system. After leaving the state legislature, she worked as Manager of Community Development and Sustainability for the Donlin Gold mining project in the Yukon-Kuskokwim region. More recently, she was Executive Director of the Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, where she helped mobilize 118 Tribes and rural Alaskans to advocate for the protection of salmon runs in Western Alaska.
Rep. Peltola also served on the Orutsararmiut Native Council Tribal Court and the Bethel City Council, and on the boards of the Nature Conservancy, the Alaska Humanities Forum, the Alaska Children’s Trust, and the Russian Orthodox Sacred Sites in Alaska.
She was elected to Congress in August of 2022 in a special election to fill the seat of the late Representative Don Young, and passed her first bill, the Food Security for All Veterans Act, through the House in September. She won re-election to the House in November of 2022, and has begun work in the 118th Congress as a member of the “freshman-plus” class.
Verner Stor Wilson III
Verner Stor Wilson III was born to Verner and Jacquelyn Wilson on April 24, 1986, and raised in Dillingham, Alaska, where he learned to value and appreciate the sustainability of the environment. He was a passionate advocate for the protection of Bristol Bay and wild salmon and spent his summers commercial fishing with his father. Verner passed away on March 23, 2023, at the age of 36.
Verner’s passion for the environment led him to pursue a degree in Environmental Management at Yale University after completing his undergraduate studies at Brown University. He went on to work with organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund, Bristol Bay Native Association, and Friends of the Earth. In his role as the Director of Natural Resources at Bristol Bay Native Association, Verner worked on regional strategies to adapt to climate change, international shipping issues, co-management of the region’s fisheries and other wildlife, and conservation of the land and waters for future generations. As a Senior Oceans Campaigner at Friends of the Earth, he focused on shipping-related marine environmental issues in the Pacific Northwest and the Arctic. He devoted a substantial part of his adult life to campaigning against the proposed Pebble mine in his home region of Bristol Bay, Alaska.
In addition to his work, Verner loved traveling the globe, exploring new cultures, and working to preserve the natural world for future generations. He was particularly fond of pangolins, manatees, and the beauty of nature.
Verner was a kind and compassionate soul, always willing to lend a helping hand to those in need. He is deeply missed by his family, friends, colleagues, and all those whose lives he touched. His legacy will live on through the impact he made in the world, and the inspiration he provided to others to continue the work he so passionately pursued.