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The Big Issue: Losing America’s Last Great Wild Fishery

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Sockeye salmon, the lifeblood of Bristol Bay.  Over 40 million sockeye salmon have returned annually to Bristol Bay in recent years. Photo: Ben Knight Sockeye salmon, the lifeblood of Bristol Bay. Over 40 million sockeye salmon have returned annually to Bristol Bay in recent years. Photo: Ben Knight

The world’s largest sockeye salmon run and the best trophy rainbow fishing anywhere will be in peril if a massive mining project known as the Pebble Mine comes to pass. This is not just Alaska’s issue.

As we gear up for the summer fishing season, it’s easy to forget about the big issues.   We’re focused on checking our gear. We’re watching water levels as record snows in the Rockies flood the rivers, promising  hold-onto-your-hat salmon-fly and stone-fly seasons.  We’re watching the promising early numbers in the Pacific Northwest as spring Chinook and steelhead swim pass the counters at Bonneville and Willamette Falls.  Guides are loading up to fly north to Alaska, or just showing up in mountain valleys still filled with snow and fast rising rivers in Montana and Wyoming.  We the fisherman are oiling reels,  checking bank accounts and being kind to bosses as we plan trips to our favorite spots. Some of us are gearing up big for the trip of a lifetime.   Others are still years away from that trip, stashing away money, pinning articles up above the fly-tying desk, and talking with friends over beers about how someday we will go someplace like Bristol Bay, Alaska. 

But we need to make sure Bristol Bay is still Bristol Bay when we get there.  The world’s largest sockeye salmon run and the best trophy rainbow fishing anywhere will be in peril if a massive mining project known as the Pebble Mine comes to pass. This is not just Alaska’s issue.  It is not just a commercial fishing or sportfishing issue.  This is about America’s last great wild fishery.   If we falter here, we will have laid down our rods at the feet of a multi-national corporation.  We will have turned an industry with a long history of destroying fisheries loose in a place that provides 40 percent of the wild salmon the world eats.  As fishermen we will have abandoned one of the last places that is hatchery-free, with runs averaging 40 million salmon a year. 

Hieronymus_Naknek_rainbow_559556283.jpgIf you fish and have not heard of Pebble, you may have been under a rock.  It is a proposal for the largest hard rock gold and copper mine in North America, bringing with it all the pollution risk and water consumption that comes with mining at this scale. It would sit at the headwaters of the largest salmon fishery in the world, a place where you can catch 5 types of salmon, rainbows, Dollies, char, northern pike, lake trout and grayling.  Its sport fishing industry brings in $100 million a year; its commercial fisheries are worth $400 million each year. Together they provide jobs for more than 12,000 people.  
All those jobs will be at risk. And Pebble Mine will cost taxpayers in Alaska and the rest of the United States for centuries as its toxic waste lingers. When the Pebble Partnership finishes mining in 50 years or so, they will lay off the 800 workers, displacing families, leaving a mess of roads, the world’s largest earthen dam, a ten square mile settling pond, and a hole three-quarters of a mile deep.  We will be faced with a mine waste clean-up of massive proportions.   For those of you familiar with copper and gold mines, whether in Utah, Michigan or Montana, you know what it has cost to clean up past mistakes and abandoned mines.  Just the cost of monitoring the mining activities will cost the taxpayer a fortune.

So, you say, what can I do?  Maybe you have already signed a petition or friended the Save Bristol Bay page on Facebook.  You might have shown the film “Red Gold” at your house and have a “No Pebble” sticker on your boat.  Those are a great start, but we are now beyond bumper stickers.  We have a rare opportunity.   We have a tool to stop this beast.  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), under section 404c of the Clean Water Act, can veto a location for the disposal of dredged or fill material, even before a permit is submitted, if the waste run-off will have unacceptable adverse effects on water purity, fish, wildlife and recreational areas. That means the EPA could stop Pebble in its tracks. The agency is completing a watershed assessment on Pebble Mine that will be open for comment within a few months. We as fishermen need to let our members of congress, many who are attacking EPA as an overbearing job killer to industry, know that the EPA must take a hard stance on Pebble Mine. No matter your feelings about EPA, taking a hard look at a mine that could ruin thousands of long-term jobs and cost taxpayers for years to come is the right thing to do.  Let the EPA know that.

We have 600 businesses, fishing and hunting clubs, conservation groups, chefs, commercial fishing groups, and tribes working together on this effort. The momentum is there, but we need all hands on deck.  Throughout the summer we will be travelling all over the US, talking with restaurants, fly shops, commercial fishermen and local conservation groups about the importance of this issue.  Take the time to read the emails or the Facebook postings, or if you see something on a local fishing forum. Then get off your duff and do something.  Donate to the cause, whether you can afford to write a big check or need to dip into the beer money to send $20 bucks. Go to www.SaveBristolBay.org today and get involved.

Your member of congress, your U.S. Senators, the EPA and especially President Obama need to know it is time to say no to the Pebble Mine.  The EPA is reviewing Pebble Mine as you read this.  We sportsmen are middle of the road voters, we need to let President Obama know as election season draws near that taking a hard stance on the Pebble Mine is something we will notice. It is about jobs, it is about cutting spending, it is right for the long-term health of our nation and it is about knowing places like Bristol Bay will be there for that once-in-a-lifetime trip.

So as you gear up for summer, take a moment and consider that the world’s largest wild salmon run could be lost without your help. When you think about what your home river looked like 150 years ago, that is what the rivers of Bristol Bay look like, wild. When you work at your local river clean-up or stream project, remember we still have Bristol Bay, where the habitat is intact. Even if you can’t stand your member of congress or the President, remember this: They will do anything to get elected and you’re a voter, so make Pebble Mine an issue. We will be all over the country this year beating the drum to stop Pebble Mine, but it will take you stepping up.  The time is now to stop Pebble Mine.

Dwayne Meadows, Bristol Bay National Outreach Director - Trout Unlimited    

Scott Hed, Director - Sportsman’s Alliance for Alaska

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Comments (7 posted):

fyshstykr on 27/05/2011 14:39:38
Can't read due to restricted access?:confused:
Guest1 on 28/05/2011 05:19:42
We have a very similar situation here in Minnesota. There were deposits of copper, possibly the largest ever found, and a number of other metals found here. PolyMet and PGM have tried to open mines in these deposits. It would provide a ton of jobs. It would provide strategically important self reliance for a number of metals. There are politicians who have said off the record that they will NEVER allow the mines to open. They have been dragging the permit process out for years. There are 'enironmental' groups who have said things like it will pollute the BWCA despite the reallity they are NOT in the same watershed. Before I would get all upset over the pebble mine I would like to see the reallity of it from some reliable source who is not using the issue to raise money. And trust me when I say, I have seen commercials from these guys spouting heart wrenching stories and visually inspiring video that are complete lies. Not only complete lies, but lies that are easily proven to be lies. I would be wary of any source who is using this issue to raise money, and any source I have already seen telling outright vile canards on any other subject. Given the amount of disinformation, and insane prevarications coming from some corners in my own state, I would like to see the real situation from a trustworthy source. On a second note, these kinds of threads, generally cause hard feelings. If you look at another site that has many things in common with this one, the Spey Pages, there were several subjects that caused a great number of problems. Dana, the owner, has a very distinct political bent, yet was forced to permanently ban some members, with the same bent, over threads like this one. It was causing the site real harm. In fact this subject exactly, plus Fracking and global warming to round out the trouble making trifecta. I'm sure it killed him to ban people he agrees with politically, but it was wrecking the site. To some extent, desite the removal of the section where this occurred being removed, is still wrecking the site. First because of the hard feelings it created, and second because some of the major offenders tried to just move the same destructive stuff to the general forum. I recently looked and 7 of the first 10 threads were attempts to revive the removed fish politics forum. I actually made the suggestion they bring back the forum section where this stuff had previously been so we would not have to sort through it to find the spey stuff. After all it was a spey forum. They are a bit touchy now and my suggestion was not met with .... enthusiasm. I really enjoy this forum and find it to be a much more friendly place than the spey pages. But we recently hit one of the 3 deadly sins here on the forum, the fracking subject. It resulted in hard feelings from a few people in a very short period of time. One who I had up till then, and still do, really liked and thought was more of an adult than he turned out to be, unfriened me, and refuses to talk to me over it. He even went so far as to edit his resonses to my talking to him on the chat box as to make them unintelligable, just to hide what he had said before. It is sad that some are not able to discuss things like this in a rational manner without becoming angry spoiled pouting children. But such is the reallity of politics, and trust me there is more politics than environment in this subject. It would be best right here and now to lock this thread from comment before it causes trouble and it will. All it would take would be to post one article like this and Viola, trouble.:Environmentalist groups see big green in Pebble Mine | The Alaska Standard In summary, I love this site. I have friends here I have never met in person who I like as much as most people I know. For instance, Ard went a while where he did not post and I became worried. I called the Wasilla hospitals and police looking to be sure nothing had happened to a person I consider to be a real friend despite having never met him in person. I did the same when Aroostookbasser vanished to find he had been injured in a serious accident. There are people on here I care about. This is what the site should be about and not the divisive political nonsense that can be injected into what is a site for FLY FISHING. I say this as a politician. I ran for State Senate last cycle. I am as interested in politics as the next guy but there is a time and a place for everything. I will likely run again in 2012, and my politics will be in fund raisers, speeches, parades and door knocking, but not on this forum. This is a flyfishing forum. I am not angry with the person who unfriended me, but I am disappointed in him. Let's not let this spread. Lock the comments please. If we are to have these articles here, please do not allow posts. They lead to no good. Dan
Bigfly on 28/05/2011 17:42:02
Dan, clearly this is not a spey thread. It is designated (by an editor)..... for us to weigh in on topics, even controversial ones. Thanks Paul. If you don't enjoy the discussion, please, feel free not to participate. In general, we already understand your viewpoint. You've stated it before. The publishe/editor of the site is the only "single person" that should shape this site. I'm sure the post was not designed to irritate you specifically. If you just avoid it, you may sleep easier, and, have more friends. Some of us might like to air issues here that we are interested in as well...... Especially PEBBLE. I've seen an open pit mine, don't think it will help the fishery in Bristol bay..This is a fishing site right? Seems appropriate to disscuss. Why should a foreign corp (with a terrible record), even get a chance, to ruin the last great fishery on our soil. Or anywhere else? This may be the last stand for common sense. Jim
Guest1 on 28/05/2011 21:32:55
Dan, clearly this is not a spey thread. ..This is a fishing site right? Jim Never said it was a spey thread, and my point was that this IS a fishing site. Did you even read what I said or just hop in guessing?
Bigfly on 28/05/2011 22:00:04
You bet, read it several times. I believe you made reference to a Spey site that went bad, due to discussion of politics.. But here, it was a news thread at the top of the page right? Perfect place for a news topic discussion I would say..unlike politics on general fishing/streams/spey (which might not be appropriate). The dominate opinion was yours (both tone and word count) I guess that's what might have made it seem like Spey thread as well.... There are other thoughts on any subject, besides yours, or mine. You seem to be the only one worked up on this site, maybe just skip the news thread? Hows about commenting, and then letting us, it's how discussion works. Discussion about Pebble among fishermen (including commercial), may be the only/best way to help stop it's development. Jim
fyshstykr on 28/05/2011 22:23:25
I think we ought to let sleeping dogs lie before this proceeds any further. Airing of dirty laundry needs to be done in private please.
Bigfly on 29/05/2011 00:07:03
Sorry guys not trying to offend, just speaking out for some free speech, on all threads.. Can't we have a place to discuss this topic without someone getting upset? If it's posted in the right place? I think most of us can handle it. And those who can't, should refrain from deciding for the rest of us. If the news/topic post goes sideways, then nip it. But please don't pre-censor. I stand by my last sentence in the post. If we (fishermen) can't talk about Pebble, it will likely happen. Jim
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alaska, bristol bay, pebble mine, sockeye

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