This year has left a lot of us starving for good news. Well, I’ve got some: Once again, for the sixth year in a row, more than 50 million sockeye salmon returned to Bristol Bay, eclipsing any other wild salmon run on the planet.
What could be better than wild salmon that return in numbers vast enough to sustain the health of thriving Yup’ik, Alutiiq and Dena’ina
communities; a $1.5 billion a year commercial fishing industry with 14,000 jobs; world-class sportfishing that people travel from around the world to experience; and a bear viewing industry that injects more than $34 million into the economy each year — especially since, if we can only prevent the destruction of the watershed that makes it possible, those benefits could last forever?
For generations, my family has been blessed to benefit from this incredible natural wonder. I started tendering in Bristol Bay in the summer of 1975. That was the year Limited Entry was going on the ballot. I got lucky and found a boat and permit for a good deal. I met my husband in 1980, we started fishing together in ‘81, and he has been running a boat in Bristol Bay every year since way back then. This season, he, our daughter and the rest of the Bristol Bay fleet again worked tirelessly to provide for our family and for America’s food security.
Year after year, the salmon of Bristol Bay return to sustain generations of Alaskans, provide a thriving economy, and feed a world of seafood lovers. Over the past 35 years, the average return of sockeye salmon to Bristol Bay has been over 35 million fish. Amazingly, in recent years, the salmon numbers continue to surpass all averages and expectations. Some days — in just a single day — more than 2 million fish arrive.
It’s easy to take Bristol Bay’s abundance for granted, but we cannot. The proposed Pebble Mine has been looming over Bristol Bay for nearly two decades and Canadian-based Northern Dynasty Minerals is doing everything it can to turn Bristol Bay’s headwaters into one of the largest open-pit mine sites in the world.
Pebble was the wrong mine in the wrong place 20 years ago, and it’s the wrong mine in the wrong place today.
No matter how hard the Pebble Partnership’s CEO Tom Collier tries to spin it, how much money the Pebble Partnership spends on DC lobbyists, or how rushed the Army Corp’s approval process for the mine is, fisheries scientists and mine experts are clear that this project endangers the greatest sockeye salmon run on the planet. Pebble’s plan to store highly toxic tailings from the mine “in perpetuity” is not even feasible, though the Army Corps in its Final Environmental Impact Statement refused to evaluate a full tailings dam failure. And Pebble plans to store these toxicants in a highly seismic area forever? Alaska will be left with the mess for generations after the mining companies have faded into oblivion. It’s so clear that this project endangers Bristol Bay that both Donald Trump Jr. and Joe Biden agree: the Pebble Mine must be stopped.
To my fellow Alaskans: Don’t take the bait. Don’t fall for the Pebble Partnership’s empty promises and seemingly desperate lies. Pebble is not a done deal. This fight is far from over. As Bristol Bay Native Corporation CEO Jason Metrokin recently said “One thing is certain: the people of Bristol Bay will not stand down.” We ask our senators to stand with Alaskans and deliver on their promise to not trade one resource for another; to not trade Bristol Bay’s 60 million sockeye salmon and Alaska’s crown jewel for a toxic, poorly evaluated, underfunded Canadian mine. Please tell the Environmental Protection Agency to exercise its authority under the Clean Water Act to defend this incredible place and veto Pebble Mine.
• Gina Friccero comes from a multigenerational Bristol Bay fishing family who makes their winter home in Kodiak.