How to save wild salmon with a fork and knife

Copper River salmon from Alaska (Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times)

Copper River salmon from Alaska (Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times)

If we demand wild salmon on our plates, we are demanding healthy habitat where wild salmon can thrive in perpetuity.

By  Mark Titus and Tom Douglas, Seattle Times

IT’S time to save wild salmon — by eating them.

This seems counterintuitive. Why would we kill wild salmon if we are hoping to save them? The fact is, salmon are big business and consumers wield tremendous power through their purchasing decisions. When you buy and eat wild salmon, you are investing your dollars in our nation’s sustainable wild-salmon fisheries.

On June 4, U.S. District Court Judge H. Russel Holland released a ruling in a lawsuit filed by the Pebble Partnership against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Pebble has plans to build North America’s largest open-pit copper mine in the headwaters of Bristol Bay in Alaska — home to North America’s largest remaining wild-salmon runs. The EPA’s involvement in Bristol Bay came at the request of tribes, commercial fishermen, sportsmen and business owners, but the court ruling earlier this month temporarily keeps efforts to protect Bristol Bay through the Clean Water Act on hold.

So what can be done in the meantime to protect this world-class resource?

First, educate your family and friends about wild salmon.

This spring, in partnership with commercial and sport fishermen, Alaska Native residents, chefs and conservationists, we completed a national tour of “The Breach,” a documentary film about the history and future of our last great wild-salmon runs. As a filmmaker and former Alaska salmon fishing guide, and a chef who serves wild salmon, we are both motivated by wild salmon economically. But it’s more than that.

We, like most people living in this part of the world, revere salmon as the iconic keystone species they are. They’re not simply a product to be pumped out of a factory — they are the very lifeblood for 137 different creatures when they return to our rivers and streams with the ocean’s nutrients inside them. They are an irreplaceable part of our Northwest landscape — they’re even inside the trees. And yet their future here remains uncertain.

As “King of Fish” author David R. Montgomery says in the documentary film, “We haven’t done a particularly good job of protecting the resource when it comes to wild salmon.” That’s true.

Historically, European and American settlers overfished wild salmon until their numbers crashed. Worse, salmon spawning rivers were destroyed when they were dammed, polluted and scoured by rapacious logging and mining practices. Hatcheries and open-net-pen fish farms designed to mitigate this damage have in the long run actually caused more.

Thankfully, there are some healthy runs of wild salmon left — and great strides under way — such as the removal of the two Elwha River dams, which provide real hope for seeing wild salmon return. But of all the fully sustainable wild-salmon runs remaining in North America, none are as strong or as vital as the runs in Bristol Bay in Alaska.

Unfortunately, instead of listening to science and the opinions of 65 percent of Alaskans, the Pebble Limited Partnership decided to sue the EPA and delay the protection process that millions of Americans have asked for.

 Within weeks, more than 50 million wild sockeye salmon will return to Bristol Bay — the most in decades. Alaskan salmon are protected by the most stringent management practices in the world. In fact, protection of salmon was mandated by law in Alaska’s constitution in 1959.
When we purchase wild salmon, we’re purchasing a food source that is the same as it’s been for millennia — fed by the krill and currents of the open ocean. It’s nutritious and sustainable — and in Bristol Bay alone, provides 14,000 jobs on the West Coast, to the tune of $1.5 billion to the American economy. That simply can’t be said about other non-wild salmon options in the marketplace.

The choices we make with our forks and our dollars will affect what remains for future generations. If we demand wild salmon on our plates, we are demanding healthy habitat where wild salmon can thrive in perpetuity. And wild Bristol Bay sockeye can be purchased year-round, flash frozen or canned, with the same nutrients, quality and flavor as the day it was pulled out of the water — for a price affordable to most.

 At the end of “The Breach,” Montgomery finishes his statement about human interaction with wild salmon by telling us, “If we don’t get Alaska right, we may have a clean sweep of getting it wrong.”

So what can else can we do?

Telling the Obama administration how we feel about wild salmon in Bristol Bay is the next best thing. But fundamentally, if we revere wild salmon — as 90 percent of us say we do here in the Pacific Northwest — we need to pick up our fork and insist they remain, by eating them.

 

A writer and director, Mark Titus recently directed “The Breach,” an award-winning documentary about wild Pacific salmon. Tom Douglas, a chef and owner of a diverse group of Seattle restaurants, co-produced “The Breach.”

Larsen Fights to Protect Bristol Bay, Washington State’s Fishing Industry

Source: Rep. Rick Larsen

 

WASHINGTON—Rep. Rick Larsen, WA-02, continued to fight to protect Bristol Bay and Washington state’s fishing industry today by opposing a bill that would restrict the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ability to use the Clean Water Act to prevent environmentally harmful projects from going forward.
 
The House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee considered H.R. 4854, the Regulatory Certainty Act, which would impact EPA’s ability to act on its determination that the Pebble Mine would threaten the health of Bristol Bay in Alaska.
 
Larsen urged his colleagues to vote against the bill, though the committee passed the bill by a vote of 33-22.
 
“When EPA announced its decision to halt the Pebble Mine near Bristol Bay, its action was based on three years of scientific study that concluded the mine would endanger the health of the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery.
 
“Thousands of Washington fishers and processors depend on this vibrant fishery. This year alone, fishers have caught more than 27 million sockeye and the season is still going strong.
 
“Many of the fishers in these waters are small business owners who rely on this vital natural resource to make a living. These small businesses add up to major economic impact in Washington state, where the Bristol Bay Fishery supports 73,000 jobs.
 
“Our small business owners should not have to fish under the shadow of having their livelihoods wiped out by a mine that science has told us could have devastating impacts.
 
“I told my colleagues that if they pass this bill, they should enjoy eating sockeye now while it’s still available. I am disappointed this bill moved forward, and I will continue urging my colleagues to let the EPA do its job and protect Washington state’s fishing industry,” Larsen said.
 

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.

U.S. Sen Begich speaks out against proposed Pebble Mine in Alaska

January 21, 2014

By Becky Bohrer

ASSOCIATED PRESS

JUNEAU — U.S. Sen. Mark Begich has come out against the proposed Pebble Mine, calling the massive gold-and-copper project “the wrong mine in the wrong place for Alaska.”

In a statement released by his office Monday, Begich said he has long supported Alaska’s mining industry and believes continued efforts must be made to support resource-development industries that help keep Alaska’s economy strong. But he said “years of scientific study (have) proven the proposed Pebble Mine cannot be developed safely in the Bristol Bay watershed.”

“Thousands of Alaskans have weighed in on this issue, and I have listened to their concerns,” he said. “Pebble is not worth the risk.”

In 2011, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency initiated a review of large-scale mining in the Bristol Bay region in response to concerns about the impact of the proposed Pebble Mine on fisheries. The agency released its final report last week, concluding that large-scale mining in the Bristol Bay watershed posed significant risks to salmon and Alaska Native cultures that rely on it. The region is home to a world-premier sockeye salmon fishery.

The Bristol Bay basin is made up of six major watersheds: the Togiak, Nushagak, Kvichak, Naknek, Egegik, and Ugashik.Image source: Wild Salmon Center.org

The Bristol Bay basin is made up of six major watersheds: the Togiak, Nushagak, Kvichak, Naknek, Egegik, and Ugashik.
Image source: Wild Salmon Center.org

 

The report did not recommend any policy or regulatory decisions. But EPA regional administrator Dennis McLerran said it would serve as the scientific foundation for the agency’s response to the tribes and others who petitioned EPA to use its authority under the Clean Water Act to protect Bristol Bay. Mine opponents have been pressing the agency to take steps to block or limit the project.

Begich, a Democrat, is the only member of the state’s congressional delegation to outright oppose the project, and his position, first reported by the Anchorage Daily News, won praise from Pebble critics on Monday.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Rep. Don Young, both Republicans, last week expressed concerns that the EPA report could be used to pre-emptively veto the project, saying that would set a bad precedent.

“If the EPA has concerns about the impact of a project there is an appropriate time to raise them – after a permit application has been made, not before,” Murkowski said in a release.

Under section 404c of the Clean Water Act, the EPA has the authority to restrict, prohibit, deny or withdraw use of an area as a disposal site for dredged or fill material if the discharge would have “unacceptable adverse” effects on things like municipal water supplies or fisheries, according to an EPA fact sheet. The agency says it has issued just over a dozen final veto actions since 1972.

Mike Heatwole, a spokesman for the Pebble Limited Partnership, the group behind the project, said Pebble is disappointed that Begich had “come out against thousands of new jobs, hundreds of millions in state revenue, and potentially billions in economic activity for Alaska.”

Heatwole said in a statement that it is “no secret that there is a substantial difference of opinion regarding the science of EPA’s recent Bristol Bay Assessment. Not many Alaskans think EPA is impartial.”

He said there is a process that exists for evaluating a project, and there is no environmental harm in allowing Pebble to follow that permitting process.

Begich told The Associated Press that one of the complaints he hears from the mining industry is that it needs to know what federal agencies want before getting too far along in the permitting process. He said if Pebble intends to apply for a permit, the watershed assessment provides a framework for what to respond to before the permit process starts.

EPA: Mining poses risks to Bristol Bay salmon

 

FILE- In this July 13, 2007 file photo, a worker with the Pebble Mine project test drills in the Bristol Bay region of Alaska near the village of Iliamma, Alaska. An EPA report indicates a large-scale copper and gold mine in Alaska's Bristol Bay region could have devastating effects on the world's largest sockeye salmon fishery and adversely affect Alaska Natives, whose culture is built around salmon. Photo: AL Grillo, AP

FILE- In this July 13, 2007 file photo, a worker with the Pebble Mine project test drills in the Bristol Bay region of Alaska near the village of Iliamma, Alaska. An EPA report indicates a large-scale copper and gold mine in Alaska’s Bristol Bay region could have devastating effects on the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery and adversely affect Alaska Natives, whose culture is built around salmon. Photo: AL Grillo, AP

By BECKY BOHRER, Associated Press

anuary 15, 2014

 

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — A government report indicates a large-scale copper and gold mine in Alaska’s Bristol Bay region could have devastating effects on the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery and adversely affect Alaska Natives, whose culture is built around salmon.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday released its final assessment of the impact of mining in the Bristol Bay region. Its findings are similar to those of an earlier draft report, concluding that, depending on the size of the mine, up to 94 miles of streams would be destroyed in the mere build-out of the project, including losses of between 5 and 22 miles of streams known to provide salmon spawning and rearing habitat. Up to 5,350 acres of wetlands, ponds and lakes also would be lost due to the mine footprint.

The report concludes that “large-scale mining in the Bristol Bay watershed poses significant near- and long-term risk to salmon, wildlife and Native Alaska cultures,” EPA regional administrator Dennis McLerran said in a conference call with reporters.

The battle over the proposed Pebble Mine has been waged for years and extended beyond Alaska’s borders, with environmental activists like actor Robert Redford opposing development. Multinational jewelers have said they won’t use minerals mined from the Alaska prospect, and pension fund managers from California and New York City last year asked London-based Rio Tinto, a shareholder of mine owner Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd., to divest, a request Rio Tinto said it planned to consider.

EPA has said its goal was to get the science right. McLerran said the report doesn’t recommend any policy or regulatory decisions and will serve as the scientific foundation for the agency’s response to the tribes and others who petitioned EPA in 2010 to use its authority under the Clean Water Act to protect Bristol Bay. He said no timeline for a response had been set.

The report also found that polluted water from the mine site could get into streams through runoff or uncollected leachate, even with the use of modern mining practices. It noted culvert blockages or other failures could impede fish passage and failure of a tailings dam, where mining waste is stored, could be catastrophic though the probability of such a failure was considered quite low.

Supporters of the EPA process hoped it would lead the agency to block or limit the project, action they urged again Wednesday; opponents saw it as an example of government overreach and feared it would lead to a pre-emptive veto.

Jason Metrokin, president and CEO of Bristol Bay Native Corp., said the corporation supports “responsible development where it can be done without causing unacceptable risks to the people, cultures and fishing economy of our region. The proposed Pebble mine is not such a project.”

John Shively, the chief executive of the Pebble Limited Partnership, which was created to design, permit and run the mine, called the report rushed and flawed, saying EPA did not take the time or commit the financial resources to fully assess such a large area. In a statement, he said the report is “a poorly conceived and poorly executed study, and it cannot serve as the scientific basis for any decisions concerning Pebble.”

Some see the mine as a way to provide jobs, but others fear it will disrupt or devastate a way of life. A citizens’ initiative scheduled to appear on the August primary ballot would require legislative approval for any large-scale mine in the region.

The Bristol Bay watershed produces about 46 percent of the world’s wild sockeye salmon, and salmon are key to the way of life for two groups of Alaska Natives in the region, Yup’ik Eskimos and the Dena’ina. The report said the response of Native cultures to any mining impacts was unclear, though it could involve more than the need to compensate for lost food and include some degree of cultural disruption.

 

Jeff Frithsen, a senior scientist and special projects coordinator with EPA, said the Pebble deposit is a low-grade ore deposit, and over 99 percent of the ore taken from the ground will end up as waste. He said the deposit’s location is at the headwaters of two of the watersheds that make up half the Bristol Bay watershed and produce half its sockeye salmon.

He said the existence of a large-scale mining operation there would affect fish habitat and any accidents would add to that. He said any loss of habitat can affect the overall diversity of the fishery habitat in the watershed.

“Changes in the portfolio of streams within the Bristol Bay watershed can reduce the overall reliability and increase the variability of the fishery over time,” he said.

Asked whether EPA believed a mine could co-exist with fish, McLerran said the assessment spoke for itself.

While EPA initiated the review process in response to concerns about the impact of the proposed Pebble Mine on fisheries, the report wasn’t meant to be about a single project.

EPA said the report looks at possible impacts of reasonably foreseeable mining activities in the region. The agency said it drew on a preliminary plan published by Northern Dynasty and consulted with mining experts on reasonable scenarios.

Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell said in a statement the report was little more than a pretext for an EPA veto of the state’s permitting process. “As my record demonstrates, I will not trade one resource for another, and every permitting application — when filed — deserves scientific and public scrutiny based on facts, not hypotheticals.”

The Pebble Partnership has called the mine deposit one of the largest of its kind in the world, with the potential of producing 80.6 billion pounds of copper, 107.4 million ounces of gold and 5.6 billion pounds of molybdenum over decades.

While EPA focused on the effects of one mine, the report said several mines could be developed in the watersheds studied, each of which would pose risks similar to those highlighted.

___

Online:

To read the assessment: http://www2.epa.gov/bristolbay