Protecting Bristol Bay’s Fisheries

By Eun Jae Park

The Pebble Limited Partnership (PLP), a consortium of Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd. of Canada and Anglo-American plc of the UK, has claimed exclusive rights to begin mineral mining in Bristol Bay, Alaska. An estimated 36.6 billion kilograms (80.6 billion pounds) of copper, 2.5 billion kilograms (5.6 billion pounds) of molybdenum, and 3.0 million kilograms (107.4 million ounces) of gold have been discovered in this region, just northwest of the Alaskan Peninsula. With state approval, open pit mining and construction for a waste rock dump site, an artificial lake that stores excess mined rock, could feasibly begin as early as late 2012 and persist for 25 to 35 years.

"We love our fish!" says Ina Bouker, a Yupik native and teacher from Dillingham who opposes the mine. (Photo credit: National Geographic)

The proposed 51.8 square kilometers (20 square miles) mine site is located between the headwaters of the Kvichak and Nushagak Rivers, two of eight major rivers feeding into Bristol Bay. The potential 10 billion tons of waste rock could pose a significant threat to the pristine waterways, fish populations, and wildlife. Although PLP has proposed the construction of an artificial lake to act as a dump for the waste material, over 25.9 square kilometers (10 square miles) of land will be flooded behind 183 meter (600 feet) high earthen dams in this active earthquake zone.

This project has been met with tremendous opposition from fishermen, conservation activists, native groups, seafood restaurant owners, chefs, nature guides, scientists, cabin managers, and local residents. PLP has recently published a comprehensive 27,000 page report on the environmental and social conditions in Bristol Bay, but it has been dismissed by critics because of the subjective nature of the data and the lack of a clear development strategy and project description.

PLP’s efforts will likely have the greatest impact on the Alaskan fishing industry. According to a poll conducted by Anchorage Daily News in 2011, 85 percent of commercial netters and drift fishermen opposed the pebble mine and 98 percent believed that Bristol Bay should be further protected. Some 25 million salmon are caught annually in the ocean and upstream, making Bristol Bay one of the most productive renewable salmon fisheries in the world. In addition, Bristol Bay residents consume over 2.4 million tons of fish per year, with 52 percent of the total indigenous diet consisting of wild salmon.

There is no scientific analysis that predicts how pebble mining will affect the salmon population or fishing industry as a whole; however, many Bristol Bay fishermen are still concerned for the health of the bay and the fishing industry. Trout Unlimited, an activist group devoted to preserving wild salmon and trout populations in Alaska, highlights commercial fisherman Dylan Braund in their campaign against PLP: “Open pit mining ruins watersheds. In Bristol Bay our water is our life. I want my son Finn to be able to fish out here one day.”

Do you think that the pebble mining project should be stopped? Let us know in the comments below!

To read more on similar topics: Conserving Fisheries, Protecting Ecosystems, Before GE Salmon Goes to Market, FDA Needs to Label It, Teaching a Man to Fish: Building Agricultural Resiliency to Climate Change, Fishing for Sustainable Aquaculture Practices, and Sustainability Questions Over Fish Farming.

Eun Jae is an intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

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