EARTHWORKS

Protecting America’s Richest Fishery: Alaska’s Bristol Bay

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By Bonnie Gestring

October 4, 2012

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The rivers and streams of Bristol Bay, Alaska support the largest wild sockeye salmon fishery in the world, and supply nearly 50% of the world’s commercial sockeye salmon.

Every year, millions of wild salmon make the epic journey from the ocean to the rivers and streams that feed Bristol Bay to reproduce -- supplying the world with healthy seafood, a feast for hungry bears, eagles and beluga whales, and roughly 14,000 jobs along the way.

Now, plans for a massive open pit, copper and gold mine, known as the Pebble Mine, put the future of the fishery in question. If developed, the Pebble Mine would be the largest open pit mine in North America, straddling the headwaters of two of the most important salmon spawning rivers.

Extracting the gold and copper will generate an enormous volume of mine waste - up to 10 billion tons. The mine waste, which must be managed in perpetuity, would be stored behind a series of dams as high as 685 feet – higher than the Washington Monument.

This spring, the EPA released a study on the risks of mining the Pebble deposit. It found that even under routine operation, the mine footprint alone would result in the direct loss of 55 to 87 miles of streams. The science is clear. Large-scale mining will have lasting consequences for Bristol Bay’s wild salmon.

Everything in Bristol Bay depends on salmon – the economy, the ecology and the culture. The Alaska Native cultures there – the Yup’ik and Dena’ina -- are two of the last intact, sustainable salmon-based cultures in the world. These communities continue to rely on wild salmon as their primary source of food.

With so much at stake, Alaska Native Tribes, commercial fishermen and others have asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to step in and protect the fishery using its authority under a special provision of the Clean Water Act. Section 404c allows the EPA to prohibit the disposal of mine waste in the waters and wetlands of Bristol Bay if the science shows that the fishery could be harmed.

These local efforts to protect Bristol Bay are supported by an unusual and diverse coalition, including jewelry retail companies, supermarkets, investors, chefs, churches, and conservation groups.

This is an important time for the public to weigh in with support about the future of the fishery. For more information, go to www.ourbristolbay.com.


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Tagged with: salmon, pebble mine, pebble, bristol bay

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