By Fred Pike
Fred Pike is an BBFA Board Member, resident of Naknek and a commercial salmon fisherman in Bristol Bay. Fred grew up among the open-pit mines of the Mesabi Iron Range of northern Minnesota (approximately 110 miles long and 4-6 miles wide).
Authors of two recent Compass articles advocate pursing development of an open-pit mine in the Bristol Bay region. The articles criticized those who oppose the mine, in particular the Alaska Independent Fishermen’s Marketing Association (BBFA).
Promises made by foreign mining development companies cannot gloss over the problems that are created by open-pit mines of this magnitude. Open-pit mines, by their nature, change the landscape of both the land and the aquifer and leave behind, at the least, massive amounts of sludge and possibly toxic chemical-filled ponds. The sludge and ponds remain forever, long after foreign-owned mining corporations have dissolved or gone home, and their promises long forgotten.
BBFA’s mission is to protect the renewable salmon resource and promote economic sustainability for commercial salmon fishermen in Bristol Bay. Some of BBFA’s members live and commercially fish for salmon in Washington, Oregon and California. These fishermen have watched the steady decline of salmon runs in these states due to habitat destruction, empty promises from corporate interests and mismanagement by government bureaucrats. One by one, salmon runs continue to be listed as endangered from California to British Columbia. This tidal wave is surging and headed directly toward the State of Alaska.
Bristol Bay lays claim to the largest sockeye salmon run in the world. Last year nearly 25 million sockeye valued at over $91 million to fishermen were harvested from the clean and pure waters of Bristol Bay. BBFA feels this valuable national treasure and renewable resource must be protected.
In recent years the salmon industry and Governor Murkowski’s administration have invested a great deal in Alaska’s wild salmon and this is paying dividends throughout the state. Tens of thousands of existing Alaskan jobs depend upon our renewable and sustainable salmon industry and the integrity of its fresh water spawning habitat. These jobs also depend up a continued strong, positive perception of the Wild Alaska Salmon brand.
Never has an open-pit mine, the size and type of the proposed Pebble project, been developed in such an environmentally sensitive habitat. This proposed open-pit mine, and the more than 1,000 square miles of additional mining claims staked throughout Bristol Bay’s headwaters, most certainly pose a grave threat to salmon habitat, fish populations, the environment and the Wild Alaska Salmon brand.
BBFA has been monitoring the proposed Pebble mine, the additional mining claims filed on state lands, and the Bureau of Land Management’s new proposal to open all of its currently protected Bristol Bay lands to open-pit mining.
What we have learned is alarming:
- Even the most minute quantities of certain minerals, including copper, and toxic chemicals (cyanide and sulfuric acid) associated with open-pit mining are deadly to juvenile salmon.
- It is virtually impossible to keep deadly pollutants in some quantity from entering the streams adjacent to open-pit mines and their tailing ponds, even under ideal circumstances.
- The volume of water necessary for the operation of a mine this size has not been identified yet. Where will this water come from and what will its loss mean to the ecosystem?
- Alaska is not known for ideal circumstances and is subject to earthquakes, floods and other natural calamities, such as St. Augustine volcano, active as I write, that could easily breach even the best-engineered tailing ponds.
Governor Hammond believed that we should only support proposed resource development projects that are environmentally sound, pay their own way, provide maximum benefit to all Alaskans and are supported by a majority of Alaskans. The proposed Pebble Mine fails to meet these criteria and would threaten far more jobs than it would create.
BBFA is the largest fishermen’s association in Bristol Bay, has represented the interests of fishermen fishing for salmon in the Bristol Bay region for 40 years and is a property owner in the region.