BC Mine Dam Break Threatens Northwest Fisheries

Silty water from the breached Mount Polley Mine dam floods a downstream creek and road Monday. | credit: Photo courtesy Cariboo Regional District Emergency Operations Centre
Silty water from the breached Mount Polley Mine dam floods a downstream creek and road Monday. | credit: Photo courtesy Cariboo Regional District Emergency Operations Centre


By: Ed Schoenfeld, Alaska Public Radio; Source: OPB


A dam break at a central British Columbia mine could threaten salmon fisheries in the Pacific Northwest.

Mount Polley is an open-pit copper and gold mine roughly 400 miles north of Seattle. A dam holding back water and silt leftover from the mining process broke Monday. It released enough material to fill more than 2,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

Government regulators have not yet determined its content. But documents show it could contain sulfur, arsenic and mercury.

Imperial Metals, the mine’s owner, issued a statement that only said the material was not acidic. Emergency officials told residents not to drink or bathe in water from affected rivers and lakes.

The spill area is in the watershed of the Fraser River, which empties into the Pacific Ocean at Vancouver, B.C. The river supports a large sport and commercial fishery in Washington state.

Brian Lynch of the Petersburg, Alaska, Vessel Owners Association says some of those fish also swim north.

“The United States has a harvest-sharing arrangement for Fraser sockeye and pink salmon through provisions of the Pacific Salmon Treaty. So any problem associated with salmon production on the Fraser will affect U.S. fishermen,” he says.

Imperial Metals did not respond to requests for comment. Its website says the mine is closed and damage is being assessed.

Provincial officials have ordered the corporation to stop water from flowing through the dam break. Imperial could face up to $1 million in fines.

Environmental groups in Canada and Alaska say Mount Polley’s dam is similar to those planned for a half-dozen mines in northwest British Columbia.

They say a dam break there would pollute salmon-producing rivers that flow through Alaska.

That could also affect U.S.-Canada Salmon Treaty allocations, including for waters off Washington state.

NCAI Encouraged By EPA Announcement Regarding Bristol Bay Salmon Fisheries


Press release, The National Congress of American Indians

WASHINGTON, DC – The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) is encouraged by the news that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) intends to review appropriate options to protect the salmon fishery in Bristol Bay, Alaska.
The Bristol Bay watershed is the largest source for sockeye salmon in the world. Current proposals for mines in the vicinity, with the resultant runoff and pollution, threaten the purity of Bay waters and thus the source of income and food for Alaska Native peoples and other fishermen.
Of the EPA announcement, NCAI President Brian Cladoosby remarked:
“While NCAI has not taken an official position on the mining proposals, I will say that for 100 years the salmon have needed a united voice to step up and speak for them. There are too many wetlands, streams, and clean water sources that have been lost along the West Coast and up to Alaska. We have to stand together to protect the environment and natural resources for the next generation.  As a fisherman, a father, and a tribal leader, I am committed to restoring and maintaining the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of our Nation’s waterways. Protecting our waters and our salmon is our responsibility to ensure future generations can enjoy, care for, and be sustained by our lands and water.”
To read the most recent NCAI resolution on the issue, click here.

Quinault Denounces State Fish and Wildlife Commission Process

Water 4fish

TAHOLAH, WA (2/18/14)— “I am extremely disappointed that the State Fish and Wildlife Commission has chosen to unilaterally develop a management policy for Grays Harbor salmon,” said Fawn Sharp, President of the Quinault Indian Nation. Her comment referred to a recent news release in which the Commission announced its February 8 approval of a new salmon-management policy to conserve wild salmon runs and clarify catch guidelines for sport and commercial fisheries in the bay.


 “As co-managers, the Quinault Nation and State should be working collaboratively and cooperatively to conserve Grays Harbor salmon. Yet the Commission didn’t even bother to meet with us. The Commission’s plan is a stark reminder of the decades-long battles in the federal courts which found that the so-called ‘conservation’ actions of the State of Washington were in fact ‘wise use’ decisions that unlawfully discriminated against treaty fishing.  It is inconceivable that today, some 40 years after the decision of Judge Boldt in US v Washington, the Commission would still choose to ignore tribal rights and interests,” said Sharp.


“Quinault Nation has consistently demonstrated leadership in habitat restoration, enhancement and all aspects of good stewardship. The State’s pursuit of fish-killing dams in the Chehalis River and the Commission’s actions reflect continuation of a disturbing pattern.  Rather than confronting the major threat to natural fish production in the Grays Harbor Basin, destruction and degradation of habitats, the Commission has chosen to focus on harvest by a small segment of the fishing community. The State also continues to ignore the orders of federal courts.  Proper management of Grays Harbor fishery resources requires a comprehensive and cohesive approach developed through collaborative processes at state/tribal, regional and even international levels. By acting on its own, the Commission violated the principles of cooperation and trust and even such agreements as the Centennial Accord.  While the Commission’s policy can’t apply to our fisheries, implementation of the Commission’s policy could well set the stage for future conflict and confrontation,” said President Sharp.

New Publication Tells Western Fisheries Research Center’s History of Innovation

Source: Paul C. Laustsen, U.S. Geological Survey Office of Communications

SEATTLE — The U.S. Geological Survey’s Western Fisheries Research Center(WFRC), headquartered in Seattle, has led cutting-edge research on fish and aquatic environments for nearly 80 years – first in the Pacific Northwest, then nationwide and throughout the world. WFRC’s history of research and innovation is captured in a new publication, “Seventy-Five Years of Science: The Story of the Western Fisheries Research Center 1935-2010,” by WFRC emeritus scientist Gary A. Wedemeyer.

The WFRC began in the Great Depression as an effort to understand and control the fish diseases that limited the success of hatcheries founded to mitigate the Grand Coulee Dam’s destruction of salmon runs in the Columbia River basin. As environmental issues grew more complex and the effects of terrestrial ecology on marine ecology became better understood, the WFRC expanded with a multidisciplinary approach that now draws on the expertise of ecologists, microbiologists, and geneticists as well as fisheries biologists and other scientists. Its six laboratories – in Seattle; on Marrowstone Island and in the Columbia River Gorge, Wash., in Klamath Falls and Newport, Ore., and in Reno, Nev. – provide the technical information that natural resource managers need to ensure the continued survival of fish and fish populations in the western United States. Because food webs, aquatic communities, and ecosystems know no borders, WFRC research is relevant worldwide.

“The WFRC has a proud tradition of solving problems that negatively impact aquatic ecosystems,” said WFRC Center Director Jill Rolland. “Working here is both an honor and a responsibility that our employees take seriously.”

But it all started in 1935, when the appropriately named biologist Frederic F. Fish was tapped by the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries to found a dedicated lab in the basement of their Seattle laboratory – a “hospital for fish,” as an article in a 1939 issue of Newsweek dubbed the novel project. Important discoveries emerged from Fish’s lab from the start.

“These discoveries became the basis for the hatchery operations needed to ensure the continued survival of economically important fish and fish populations both in the United States and abroad,” Wedemeyer said.

WFRC research toward recovery plans for endangered species has led to the successful establishment of self-sustaining fish populations in U.S. desert aquatic ecosystems. Other projects have proven critical to the continued survival of Pacific salmon and sturgeon populations throughout the U.S. portion of the Columbia River basin in five Western states. The Center was part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service until 1996, when it came under the aegis of the USGS.

WFRC’s history of innovation continues. Since 2008, the Coast Salish Nation and Swinomish Indian Tribal Community have partnered with WFRC on the Coast Salish Tribal Water Quality Project, which blends science and Coast Salish cultural practices to study water quality and its effects on an ecosystemthat supports orcas, salmon and other culturally important species. WFRC scientists are studying fish populations and ecosystems within the Elwha River Restoration Project, the largest dam removal project in U.S. history. Others are developing acoustic imaging techniques to safely monitor the endangered Delta smelt, whose status is an ecological bellwether for a region critical to California’s economy. Still others are developing strategies to fight the ecological and economic damage wrought by invasive aquatic species introduced into U.S. waters in the ballast tanks of ocean-going ships. WFRC is an International Reference Laboratory for the World Organization of Animal Health in Paris, and its scientists assist more than 170 WOAH member countries to establish effective fish disease control programs.

The publication “Seventy-Five Years of Science: The Story of the Western Fisheries Research Center 1935-2010” is available online. Video of Wedemeyer talking about WFRC is available here.