I just returned from a trip to Alaska, where I enjoyed eating the state’s legendary sockeye salmon. Bristol Bay, AK supports the largest runs of wild salmon on the planet – and supplies half of the world’s sockeye salmon.
And now that salmon is being exported in new and exciting ways.
OnEarth magazine’s online cover story What a Catch features the Iliamna Fish Company, an innovative subscription-based cooperative started by a family that has been fishing in Bristol Bay for three generations and is now shipping sockeye salmon to the heart of Brooklyn, NY. “By creating a demand for sustainably caught sockeye via a cooperative patterned on community support agriculture…, the Nicolsons and their relatives hope to find an economic model for continuing to keep small fishermen in business, while also generating awareness of the myriad threats to Bristol Bay and their family’s way of life, not least of which is the proposed Pebble Mine.”
Pebble Mine is a colossal gold and copper mine proposed at the headwaters of Bristol Bay’s famed salmon runs. Salmon in Bristol Bay support 14,000 jobs (like the Nicolsons) and a commercial fishery worth $1.5 billion a year. Salmon are not only the economic backbone of Bristol Bay but also the lifeblood of the entire region. Alaska Natives have lived off salmon for thousands of years, and salmon support an abundance of wildlife as well— from brown bears and eagles to whales and seals.
According to a scientific assessment conducted by the EPA, Pebble Mine would wipe out up to 90 miles of streams and eliminate up to 4,800 acres of wetlands—even without accidents or failures. Worse, a tailings dam failure could be "catastrophically damaging" to the salmon.
Which is why NRDC has been fighting for years to stop the Pebble Mine. Anglo American – a 50 percent partner in Pebble Mine – announced in September2013 that it will withdraw from the project and incur losses despite investing more than $540 million to date. Mitsubishi completely divested from the project in February 2011.
But the fight is far from over. Northern Dynasty Minerals – now the sole owner of the Pebble deposit – has vowed to move forward with developing the mine. And the State of Alaska – which has never said “no” to a big mine – has already said it will have no choice but to permit Pebble Mine if Northern Dynasty jumps through all the permitting hoops. The flawed permitting system doesn’t adequately account for the devastating impacts of the mine – or the overwhelming opposition to the mine from the Bristol Bay region. In fact, the EPA has the legal authority under the Clean Water Act—and already has sound supporting scientific evidence—to prohibit or restrict such a project.
This is a high-stake battle: salmon versus gold. As one recent Pebble Mine documentary noted, “We Can’t Eat Gold.”
Photo credit: Pool 32