Multinational mining companies want to build an enormous gold and copper mine at the headwaters of Bristol Bay ... which hosts the world's biggest salmon runs.
Since 2005, we've been covering the fight to stop this so-called Pebble Mine … see the “Mining & Seafood Sustainability” section of our news archive.
The sorry history of North American hard-rock mining and the particulars of the planned mine force us to oppose this ill-conceived project.
Last month, we published “Fisherman Fights Alaska Mine with Facts” ... a critique of the Pebble Mine which highlighted the fact that hard rock mining almost invariably pollutes adjacent waterways.
That essay was written by Bristol Bay salmon fisherman Brett Veerhusen, who cofounded and advocacy organization called Ocean Strategies that fights ocean acidification, the Pebble Mine, and other threats to sustainable fishing.
Earlier this month, Brett wrote another sharp essay about the risks that mining operations pose to Bristol Bay salmon.
Brett does it by pointing out the flaws in mining advocates' arguments about the Fraser River, whose sockeye runs rank second only to Bristol Bay's. The Fraser empties into the sea between here (Bellingham, Washington), and Vancouver, Canada.
Titled “What the Fraser River Actually Teaches Us”, Brett's new essay focuses on the Fraser River salmon runs ... which were very large in 2010, but in recent years have more often been alarmingly small.
The generally downward trend in the size of the Fraser sockeye runs has been the subject of heated court hearings in Vancouver, which revealed the likely presence in regional wild sockeye of a salmon-killing virus that could only have come from farmed salmon. (We'll report on the hearings' findings when they are final.)
Brett's essay was written in response to a condescending, misleading TV ad by pro-mine interests that distorts reality ... as he points out. 
You may also want to view a video “Mining the Fraser - Ecological Destruction Under False Pretenses”, which documents some of the deceptions by mining companies and Canadian regulators with regard to a gravel-mining project on the Fraser River.
What the Fraser River Actually Teaches Us
By Brett Veerhusen
This piece continues my Pebble point/counterpoint series by closely examining a recent television advertisement from the Pebble Partnership in which they claim that the Fraser River is a prime example how salmon and mining can co-exist.
POINT: The 2010 record salmon return to the Fraser River shows that salmon and the Pebble Mine can co-exist forever.
Commercial fishermen such as myself like to be aware how salmon fisheries are performing in Alaska, British Columbia and Washington. We like to know who is making money, and when a fishery outperforms for multiple years it begins to make an impression.
So when I first saw Pebble's advertisement about the Fraser River's surprising return of 34 million fish in 2010 justifying how salmon and mining can co-exist, I became skeptical. Very skeptical.
A return of 34 million is an amazing year, but that does not match the chatter I heard from years past. In fact, most stories I heard were of long closures and small catches. That is why a Canadian has been running my father's salmon seiner in Alaska for almost a decade. Mind you, the Pebble Partnership consists of Canadian (Northern Dynasty) and British (Anglo American) companies.
Does the historical performance of the Fraser River compare to the Kvichak and Nushagak Rivers where the Pebble mine is proposed? Can “hundreds of miners and several large open-pit mines” live next to a world-class fishery?
COUNTERPOINT: The Fraser River is a prime example how mining damages sockeye salmon returns and commercial fisheries.
After doing some basic research and fact checking, I came across some startling data on what happens to salmon populations when they are forced to co-exist with mining. Just like Pebble proponents are doing, I'll use the Fraser River as my comparison. However, I will stick to long-term facts rather than one-year anomalies.
Recently, the Fraser River has suffered the lowest productivity level in fifty years. In the last 6 of 11 years, the Fraser River has been closed to commercial fishing, due to poor returns of salmon. From 1956 to 2010, the Fraser averaged a 7 million return run of sockeye salmon. For the same time period, the Bristol Bay region averaged a 29-million return of sockeye.
I am in awe of the Fraser River's record run in 2010, but as I remember from college, outliers are generally omitted in statistical analysis.
And isn't statistical analysis what Pebble is spending millions of dollars on? Aren't they supposed to be informing the public with hard data and long-term statistics that show the viability of a mine of this size operating in a region so pristine? I do not understand why the Pebble Partnership is focusing on outliers.
Two University of Washington professors, Dr. Daniel Schindler and Dr. Ray Hilborn state, “All claims by mining advocates that Fraser River salmon populations are healthy and productive are simply incorrect.”
Let's take into consideration that along the Fraser River, mines, mills, roads and other industries dot its banks. Over the years, containments like trace metals, PCB's, dioxins and furans, have polluted its waters, disrupting the fish ecosystems.
Bristol Bay is a region of nearly unspoiled and untouched waters and boasts healthy and strong returns of salmon to support its fisheries. As I understand it, industrial activity plus salmon ecosystems eventually leads to depleted stocks and closed fisheries. As a commercial fishing business owner who depends on Bristol Bay, I am not okay with that option.
Copper is an excellent example how containments damage fish ecosystems. When salmon are exposed to small amounts of copper, their basic instincts to avoid predators and return to spawning grounds are short-circuited. When one salmon gets injured, it releases a chemical compound that other salmon can smell and sends a message that danger is near. However, if these salmon have been exposed to copper, they do not respond to this chemical compound and therefore fail to avoid predators.
To make matters worse for the Fraser River, strong and healthy salmon returns are not predicated to happen until 2014. Until then, says Pacific Salmon Commission biologist Mike Lapointe, “we [can] expect about 3.2 million sockeye based on the recent productivity scenario and about 4.6 million based on the long-term average” for the upcoming years.
I wonder if Pebble is interested in making another advertisement using those statistics!
In her own words, Cynthia Carroll, chief executive of London-based Anglo American says, “I will not go where people don't want us.”
As a Bristol Bay fisherman and concerned business owner, I can assure you that no one in the region wants record low sockeye returns like those on the Fraser. An astonishing 80% of Bristol Bay residents do not want the mine. Moreover, 97% of Bristol Bay commercial fishermen agree that Pebble will result in destruction of salmon habitat.
Listen to yourself Ms. Carroll. Don't come to Bristol Bay. We do not want you here.
We saw Brett's great essay on the just-launched website Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay, which informs people about the proposed mine's risks and rallies opposition by fishermen, the seafood industry, and wild salmon fans.
(For more about Brett and the lives of Alaskan fisher folk, see our sidebar concerning the wonderful website he co-created with fisherwoman and childhood friend Sierra Anderson, called “The Real Alaska”.)
If you have a connection to commercial fishing or to distribution and sale of wild seafood, please consider visiting the site to sign a “Commercial Fishing Industry National Sign on Letter to the EPA”, asking administrator Lisa Jackson to start a scientific assessment of the proposed mine's potential impacts. 
Patrice McCarron, executive director of the Maine Lobstermen's Association, was an early signatory to the letter.
As she said, “We stand shoulder to shoulder with salmon fishermen on this one. Massive-scale mining in the seismically active Bristol Bay watershed poses unacceptable risk to our country's largest and most valuable remaining wild salmon run – not to mention the fishing jobs that it supports.”
Fisherman oppose the mine … and so should wild salmon fans
In August, the first poll of commercial fisherman in Alaska's Bristol Bay region found that an overwhelming majority – 85 percent – oppose the Pebble Mine.
And a near-unanimous 96 percent believe the headwaters of Bristol Bay should be protected for future generations.
The poll, conducted by nonpartisan firm Craciun Research, surveyed 350 (over 10 percent) of commercial fishing permit holders who live in Alaska and outside the state, and has a margin of error of 5.2 percent.
“Alaskan fishermen simply do not want Pebble Mine. They strongly believe we must protect Bristol Bay and its abundant wild fish,” said Bob Waldrop, executive director of Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association (BBRSDA), which represents all of the salmon driftnet fishermen in Bristol Bay and is one of the original signers of the letter. ”The Pebble project would threaten thousands of good-paying jobs, which are essential to the regional and state economy.”
The proposed Pebble Mine – a partnership of Anglo American and Northern Dynasty – would construct one of North America's largest open pit and underground mines at the headwaters to Bristol Bay, whose fishery supplies roughly half of the world's annual sockeye salmon harvest.
Waldrop continues, “Science has protected and helped sustainably manage the Bristol Bay commercial fishery for 130 years. We trust the scientific approach of the EPA's watershed assessment will continue to do so.”
“Still, political support is very important in order to strengthen the federal government's desire to act, based on the science of the assessment,” he adds. “That's why we are asking fishing organizations and fishing-related businesses from throughout the United States to take a moment, go to the Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay website, and join us in signing the EPA letter.”