New Film Explores the Collapse of Salmon... and Hope in Bristol Bay

Wild salmon used to be so plentiful in the waterways of the Pacific Northwest that, when explorers Lewis and Clark arrived at the Columbia River in the early 1800s, Clark wrote that you could cross the river on the backs of the fish. That's almost unimaginable today, however, as wild salmon populations in the Pacific have largely collapsed. In a new documentary called The Breach, fishing guide and filmmaker Mark Titus dives into the world of wild salmon to explore this crash.

"We had an agreement, you and I," says the mythical voice of the salmon.

That age-old agreement meant that humans used to take only what they needed - protecting both the salmon and their spawning grounds. In return, wild salmon would return every year - providing the economic, cultural and spiritual backbone of entire communities.

But humans have since breached that agreement by overfishing, polluting, and destroying salmon habitat. The Breach takes viewers to the scenes of that destruction: from dams in Washington, to salmon factory farms in British Columbia, to logging and trans-boundary mining in southeast Alaska.

Yet the film is not all doom and gloom. The movie takes an upbeat turn in Bristol Bay, Alaska. "Here, our agreement of old still stands...for now," the salmon says.

Bristol Bay is home to the greatest wild salmon fishery in the world. It produces nearly half of the world's sockeye salmon, sustaining 14,000 jobs and $1.5 billion in annual economic activity. Salmon are the life force of the region, feeding mind, body and soul. Here, the spiritual connection with salmon still exists.

But looming over Bristol Bay is the specter of Pebble Mine: a giant gold and copper mine proposed at the salmon-rich headwaters. The film documents the fight to stop Pebble Mine and follows local leaders from Dillingham to D.C.

At the request of Bristol Bay tribes, commercial and sports fishermen, conservation groups and others, last year the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued restrictions under the Clean Water Act that would make building Pebble Mine all but impossible. Pebble responded with a three-prong attack: (1) filing three separate lawsuits in any effort to delay EPA; (2) hiring lobbyists to "independently review" EPA's work, which Pebble claims is biased; and (3) pushing legislation in Congress that would gut EPA's ability to stop Pebble Mine.

The film tells this story and more. An unusual mix of science and emotion, it is a cautionary tale of man's ability to destroy salmon in a quest for expansion.

Ultimately, however, the film is a celebration of salmon - and the economies and cultures that salmon sustain.

"As you work to save us, it may turn out that we end up saving you," says the salmon at the end of the film.

Winner of Best International Feature Documentary at the 2014 Galway Film Festival and Best of Fest selection at the Palm Springs 2015 Film Festival, The Breach is mid-way through its national tour. Join Mark Titus, NRDC Western Director Joel Reynolds and leaders from Alaska at the Santa Monica screening of The Breach - Wednesday, May 20, 2015 at 7:00 pm - to learn more about our fight to protect Bristol Bay from Pebble Mine. Click here to purchase tickets. (Or click here to find screenings and receptions in your city.) The film will be followed by a panel discussion, Q&A, and Alaska wild salmon reception. Bristol Bay sockeye salmon will be served!