In this issue
- Bristol Bay Salmon at Risk
- New Protection for Wild Steelhead on Washington's Sol Duc River
- Russian Fisheries and Japanese Buyers Talk Sustainability
- Breakthroughs on Oregon's North Coast
- Champion for Wild Salmon: Natalia Kizimova inspires a new generation to save salmon
- Protected Area Progress in Russia
- ALSO: Sunset Magazine Environmental Award; Prince Charles Marine Program; International Taimen Workshop and Events and Announcements.
Bristol Bay Salmon at Risk
Report highlights potential impacts of proposed Pebble Mine to Alaska's thriving Bristol Bay salmon ecosystem and fisheries
On February 7th the Wild Salmon Center and Trout Unlimited released a comprehensive report on the potential ecological impacts of the proposed Pebble Mine in southwestern Alaska. The Pebble Mine, a project of the Vancouver, Canada based Northern Dynasty Minerals and London based Anglo American, was first proposed in 2006 to exploit one of the largest known deposits of copper and gold in North America. The deposit straddles the headwaters of the Nushagak and Kvichak watersheds, which contain a vast network of streams, lakes, and wetlands. The rivers that comprise the Bristol Bay watershed generate annual runs of 20 to 40 million adult salmon, including the largest runs of wild sockeye salmon along the Pacific Rim.
Why is Bristol Bay Important?
The Bristol Bay basin is one of the top producing wild Pacific salmon systems in the world, yielding up to 40 million adult salmon annually. It is the most lucrative wild salmon fishery in Alaska, supporting nearly 12,000 jobs and generating an estimated $318 to $572 million annually. The annual salmon migration provides dietary protein for humans and dozens of species, while depositing tons of marine-derived nutrients that are essential to the ecological health of the basin.
“The Bristol Bay watershed and its tributary streams are a powerhouse of wild sockeye salmon production—the very best in the world. The Pebble Mine proposal dwarfs all of the existing mines put together in Alaska and, if constructed, will have devastating consequences for salmon, as well as the wildlife and humans who depend on them." - Lance Trasky, retired Alaska Department of Fish and Game Regional Supervisor and contributing report author
The Threat: Pebble Mine
As proposed, the Pebble Mine project would be one of the largest mines in the world with a footprint that would cover 28 square miles of land. The mine would produce up to 10.8 billion tons of waste rock, resulting in one or more of the world's largest tailings storage facilities, and feature an open pit up to 4,000 feet deep and 2.3 miles wide. Up to nine miles of dams reaching up to 740 feet high would be required to impound just 2.5 billion tons of the toxic waste produced (called tailings), which will need treatment in perpetuity.
The type of ore at Pebble is likely to produce acid mine drainage, which would have a severe detrimental impact on aquatic life. The region's seismic activity and extreme weather conditions could trigger dam failures, resulting in potentially catastrophic impacts to the Bristol Bay fishery. The Pebble Mine's infrastructure would include a network of roads, pipelines, a port, and an energy-generating station, which would pave the way for additional mining proposals in Bristol Bay.
Key Report Findings
To describe the likely impacts of the Pebble Mine, the authors of the report relied on preliminary mine descriptions presented to permitting agencies and investors, most notably the Preliminary Assessment of the Pebble Project, Southwest Alaska (Ghaffari et. al 2011) and Northern Dynasty Mines Inc., Pebble project: tailings impoundment A and G, initial application reports (Knight Piesold Consulting 2006).
- The Bristol Bay basin contains one of the most productive wild salmon ecosystems, producing up top 40 million adult salmon annually, including over 50% of the world's sockeye salmon, and large runs of Chinook, coho, pink, chum and arctic char.
- The toxic waste generated from the proposed Pebble Mine, including acid mine drainage, copper, and other elements, has the potential to permanently degrade the Bristol Bay ecosystems and adversely impact its wild salmon populations.
- If permitted, the Pebble Mine will enable the development of a mining district at least four times larger than the Pebble Mine lease, increasing risks to the Bristol Bay ecosystem.
- Economic evaluations do not adequately account for the value of healthy ecosystems or the long-term costs associated with large mine clean-up.
- Alaska's large mine permitting process may be inadequate to ensure the conservation of Bristol Bay's wild salmon ecosystems; to date, the State of Alaska has never denied a permit for a large-scale mine.
“We are once again at the threshold of a decision that could put an outstanding wild salmon ecosystem at risk. Each of North America’s great salmon rivers have shared a similar moment—a moment when a decision was made that would determine its future, before the 'die is cast.' We have arrived at that moment for Bristol Bay.” - Guido Rahr, President of Wild Salmon Center
While mining technology and best practices have improved considerably over the years, large-scale mining projects continue to be plagued by challenges in predicting ground and surface water quality impacts. Given the industry's poor track record in meeting its water quality goals, and the singular value of Bristol Bay's wild salmon ecosystem, construction of the Pebble Mine represents a monumental gamble. This report concludes that there is simply too much at stake to conduct an experiment of this scale with a resource of such extraordinary economic, ecological, and cultural importance.
Next steps. A coalition of Alaska Native tribes and corporations, sportsmen, commercial fishermen and others have asked the Environmental Protection Agency to protect Bristol Bay by withdrawing the Kvichak and Nushagack watersheds as disposal sites for dredge and fill activities under Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act. In response to that request, the EPA is currently conducting a scientific assessment of the Bristol Bay watershed to determine whether large-scale development would adversely impact the region's water quality and salmon fisheries. The Draft Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment will be released for public review in early May.
New Protection for Wild Steelhead on Washington's Sol Duc River
For the last five years, the Wild Salmon Center and its partners have advocated for the establishment of "wild fish management zones" where wild fish would be given management priority, and hatchery fish releases would be reduced or eliminated in order to protect the genetic integrity of native salmon runs. On February 6, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) designated the first-ever Wild Salmonid Management Zone (WSMZ) under state policy for Sol Duc River steelhead on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. This conservation milestone marks the beginning of a new fisheries management paradigm in the state and sets into motion WSC's three-pronged conservation approach for sustaining wild salmon in perpetuity:
- Protect and restore enough habitat to sustain salmon health and ecosystem process
- Manage wild salmon populations for abundance, diversity and the maintenance of ecosystem health
- Support human communities, markets and institutions that will protect wild salmon and their ecosystems over time
The Olympic Peninsula is a stronghold for wild salmon and steelhead, including the Hoh, Sol Duc, Calawah and Queets Rivers. Since 1999 the WSC has worked with partners to protect 10,088 acres and restore 2,300 acres of salmon habitat, and create three autonomous community groups dedicated to the long-term protection of salmon and their habitats.
Creating positive change in the management of wild salmon populations has been a challenge. Millions of artificially-reared hatchery fish are released into Washington’s rivers each year, a practice that has been used by fishery managers for over 100 years. Yet salmon runs continue to decline and more populations are listed on the federal Endangered Species Act every few years. Research has shown that diverse, wild salmon populations adapt much better to changes in the environment and that hatchery fish hinder the survival of wild fish through disease, interbreeding, and competition for food and space. Still, fish managers resist closing any hatcheries for fear of losing opportunities to harvest fish.
WSC believed this logic was counterintuitive and has invested in years of outreach to bring the best science to the attention of fish managers and emphasizes that managing for healthy wild populations could actually improve harvest opportunities and ecosystem health. The Sol Duc’s recent WSMZ designation confirms that our outreach efforts and those of our partners were successful.
Wild Fish Management Initiative
The WSC worked with many organizations, government scientists and concerned citizens over the years to establish Wild Salmonid Management Zones (WSMZ’s). The WSC conducted independent technical reviews, and provided conservation recommendations and public testimony to state and federal fish management agencies. Our experts participated in two significant governmental processes that paved the way for wild fish zoning: WDFW’s Statewide Steelhead Management Plan in 2007 and the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Fish Hatchery Review for the Olympic Peninsula in 2009. In November of 2009, with ample scientific evidence from government experts and conservation groups like Wild Salmon Center, Wild Steelhead Coalition, and Wild Fish Conservancy, WDFW’s Commission authorized state policy C3619 to establish WSMZ’s across the state.
WSC helped improve local support of WSMZ’s through its ongoing collaboration with the Washington Coast Sustainable Salmon Partnership—a grassroots effort to protect and restore wild salmon and their habitats across 4 million acres of Washington’s coast. As a result, we helped create the Washington Coast Sustainable Salmon Plan for the Governor’s Salmon Recovery Office that explicitly supports the establishment of WSMZ’s, outlines new strategies for improving the market value of wild fish, and ties habitat conservation to improvements in wild fish management. The plan is currently undergoing public review.
WSC played a key role building broad support for WSMZ’s and the addition of local support for wild fish management helped secure the recent designation of the Sol Duc as a Wild Salmonid Management Zone. Nearly 227 miles of the Sol Duc River will be dedicated to the management of wild summer and winter steelhead. An excellent choice, the Sol Duc is clear, free-flowing and loaded with steelhead and it has a rich history of being the state’s premier steelhead fishery. Conservation and angling groups throughout Washington applauded this step by WDFW.
The establishment of additional WSMZ’s will help safeguard some of the strongest wild salmon and steelhead runs south of the Canadian border. If we succeed, Washington State will have made a long range investment in the health and survival of some of our regions most cherished wild salmon and steelhead populations.
In December the Wild Salmon Center and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Japan and WWF Russia organized the first workshop on responsible procurement of Russian wild salmon by the Japanese seafood industry. The workshop included participation of representatives from Russian, Japanese, German and Canadian seafood companies and the NGO sector.
Japan is the largest buyer of Russian sockeye salmon, which is predominantly caught in the seas of the Kamchatka Peninsula in the Russian Far East. This puts Japanese buyers in a prime position to drive sustainable management and procurement of wild salmon fisheries in Russia and across the Pacific Rim. However, most Japanese seafood companies and consumers are unaware of the serious risks associated with Kamchatka salmon fishing. Strong market demand can encourage illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, unsustainable fishing practices and discards (many non-target fish species and other marine animals accidentally caught in the nets are thrown overboard) unless additional regulations are taken to strengthen compliance, enforcement and traceability.
“Many people in Russia think all domestic problems should be kept within national borders" notes Sakhalin Fishery Representative Vladimir Smirnov. "However, both Russia and Japan depend on the same resource—Pacific salmon, and I believe that problems of this fishery can only be solved together.”
Breakthroughs on Oregon's North Coast
The Tillamook Estuary and the rivers that feed it represent some of the most productive salmon-bearing coastal rivers in the Pacific Northwest. The rivers that flow from the Tillamook: the Wilson, Trask, Kilchis, Miami, Salmonberry and much of the Nehalem flow from the 518,000 acre Tillamook and Clatsop State Forest. Because of the health and productivity of these rivers and the fact that so much of the habitat lies on public lands, the Tillamook represents one of the most important long-range conservation opportunities in the Pacific Northwest.
During the 2012 legislative season a bill was introduced to mandate that the Tillamook and Clatsop State Forest be managed for timber production first and foremost and that 85% of annual growth be cut. The WSC and partners testified against the bill, as did Governor John Kitzhaber, who in November asked the Oregon Board of Forestry to establish protected areas for fish and wildlife on state forestland. Fortunately, the bill died in the Ways and Means committee.
Since then, the WSC and our partners from the Northwest Steelheaders, Oregon Council of Trout Unlimited, and the Oregon Chapter of the Sierra Club have been organizing community support for the establishment of protected areas, or reserves, to safeguard important habitat for salmon and other species.
New Developments. WSC has also led the effort to appoint a scientist to the Oregon Board of Forestry, which oversees rules for state and private forest land in Oregon. In February, Governor Kitzhaber appointed Cindy Deacon Williams of Medford to the Board, the first fisheries biologist ever appointed to the Board of Forestry—a body that historically has been dominated by timber interests. Ms. Williams has held positions in the U.S. Forest Service Fisheries Program and as the co-leader of the Interior Columbia Basin Environmental Impact Statement team. She also has extensive experience working in the California legislature and for conservation organizations. The WSC applauds the Governor's directives and we welcome Ms. Williams addition to the Board of Forestry.
In March, the Oregon Board of Forestry directed the Department of Forestry to develop rules for “visible and durable” conservation areas on Oregon’s Tillamook and Clatsop State Forest. This was a very important step and one that the WSC has long regarded as the primary missing element in the long range management of Oregon’s state forests.
Next Steps. In July, the Board of Forestry will meet in Tillamook to consider specific legal changes to create conservation areas.
Protected Area Progress in Russia
One of the WSC’s top priorities in the North Pacific is the conservation of large-scale and intact freshwater ecosystems. Russia is one of the few places in the world where these opportunities at this scale still exist. Every ten years Russian federal and state governments review the current state of biodiversity and updates federal and regional plans for expanding the protected areas system. The WSC is working closely with both government and local partners to provide technical and scientific support for these efforts.
Altogether, the WSC and local partners are working to establish nine regional and federal level preserves in the Russian Far East with a combined watershed area of over eight million acres. Our work entails ensuring that these priority rivers are included in state protected areas development plans, that the public supports their creation, and that regional governments approve appropriations to ensure sufficient funding for their operation once they are established. At the international level, our work with Russian partners is included in the US-Russian Agreement on Cooperation in Conservation of Wildlife and Wildlife Habitat.
Here are some of the updates from the field on our progress:
- In the Khabarovsk Region, our longtime partner, Khabarovsk Wildlife Foundation (KWF), succeeded in getting public approval for creation of the Tugur River Refuge in late 2011. Four additional salmon watersheds: Nemelen, Dui, Im, Hor were also approved. This is part of the regional government’s new Protected Area Development Plan which will be effective through 2020. The Shantar Islands were designated for National Park status in 2012 by the Federal Government of the Russian Federation.
- In Sakhalin, the government approved a protected areas target program in December 2011, which will allocate funding for existing and new protected areas through 2018, including conservation of salmon watersheds proposed by the WSC and its partners.
- In Kamchatka, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment established a commission to revise and extend Kamchatka’s Protected Areas Development Plan to 2020. The plan includes salmon watersheds where WSC is working to protect, including the Kol, Utkholok, Zhupanova and Opala.
International Taimen Workshop
Taimen are the largest members of the trout, salmon and char family. There are five species, including the elusive sea run taimen (Parahucho perryi), and the Siberian taimen (Hucho taimen) which can grow to be over a 100 pounds in size.
Taimen, like many other predators, are vulnerable to habitat loss and overfishing, and members of this group of salmonid fish have been declining throughout much of their range.
In December, the State of the Salmon (a program of WSC) convened a workshop at the annual meeting of the Society for Conservation Biology in Auckland, New Zealand. For the first time, a group of scientists, conservationists and key stakeholders working on all species of taimen came together to present and discuss what is known about these unusual, mysterious and increasingly threatened fish species. There were nearly 20 experts from around the world at the workshop, including representatives from Russia, Japan, Austria, and Mongolia. Although Chinese representatives were unable to attend the workshop, we are collaborating with several scientists working on a very rare taimen species in China.
The workshop provided an opportunity to share important new information about the biology and status of taimen and participants made progress on determining the current conservation status of each species. Much of the deliberations focused on Siberian taimen, which have had a dramatic decline in range and abundance over the last 50 years. Russian scientist Lev Zhivotovsky presented on the concept of genetically-defined “conservation units,” a strategy to prioritize conservation efforts in each region. This is an important milestone, and represents a new, scientifically-grounded approach that will help guide our future research and conservation work on taimen.
Workshop attendees plan to complete a technical paper for peer review summarizing the biology, status, and needed conservation actions to protect these species. The manuscript will be completed in time for the next World Conservation Union (IUCN) congress in South Korea in September.
Natalia Kizimova inspires a new generation to save salmon
Natalia was working as a history teacher on Sakhalin Island when she found herself drawn to environmental projects. She now serves as Sakhalin Salmon Initiative (SSI) Manager of Education and Outreach. Today, more than 60 educational institutions in the region implement the salmon education programs “Salmon Watch” and “Droplet” with plans for introduction in Kamchatka this year. SSI has collaborated with the Sakhalin Ministry of Education, a variety of environmental specialists, and teachers to reach almost 6,000 people since its launch in 2007. During the Russian-Oregon watershed council exchange in October 2011, Natalia shared the SSI education programs with participants from Khabarovsk and Kamchatka.
How did you get started in your work with salmon conservation?
While working with children as a history teacher, I was gradually attracted to environmental projects. I wanted students to understand, at an early age, the importance of protecting nature. Since the island’s main wealth is salmon, it is imperative for us to know as much about this resource as possible.
I first learned of the WSC five years ago through the SSI, a program launched with the support of Sakhalin Energy Investment Company and the WSC. I started as manager of Education and Outreach, and have since taken on the public salmon council program manager responsibilities.
Why is the preservation of wild salmon populations important for you and the community where you live and work?
I was born and raised on Sakhalin, and therefore from childhood knew and understood the importance of salmon to the local community. It’s also about economics, as 50% of the population is employed in association with salmon. Additionally, salmon is considered to be an ethnic and cultural symbol. It is very important to preserve wild salmon populations, so that our grandchildren can see the beautiful sight of rivers with naturally spawning salmon.
What do you hope to accomplish?
I enjoy teaching children to love nature and to learn more about salmon. In almost every district kids are working closely for one purpose—to save salmon together! I would also like to work with adults but they can prove to be a greater challenge as they have already formed their view of life and it is very difficult to get them to look at some of the issues from a different angle.
What challenges have you come up against along the way?
The hardest part was to explain to people why exactly I’m involved in wild salmon conservation. Before SSI, nobody was really reaching out to the community to teach them about salmon and river conservation; they got used to salmon being an inexhaustible resource.
In order to be able to explain an issue to others, you first need to understand it yourself. Through education you can inspire others. After all, when you are excited about a topic, people feel your enthusiasm and are more motivated to seek out information themselves!
What are you most proud of?
During the four years that I’ve worked in SSI, I've seen a very strong change around me. Children from a very young age up to teenagers and young adults happily study about salmon through educational programs like "Salmon Watch" and "Droplet". More than 60 educational institutions in the region are implementing these programs, which were developed as part of my project. This work went on for three years in close collaboration with the Ministry of Education of Sakhalin and with involvement from different specialists, including ichthyologists, aquatic scientists, biologists, and teachers. We brought together children from all of Sakhalin Island, conducting annual salmon festivals and competitions. In 2011 alone, over 1,000 people participated in the salmon festival and the salmon drawing contest, bringing the total number to over 5,900 people since the project launch in 2007!
But really it is the children that I am most proud of. Because of the work they are doing, the salmon of Sakhalin will have a more hopeful future.
The Wild Salmon Center has been working with partners to protect critical habitat in Washington's Olympic Peninsula. In 2012 Sunset Magazine recognized both the Hoh River Trust and the Elk Creek Conservation Area as examples of successful conservation initiatives. In 2001 WSC and Western Rivers Conservancy launched the Hoh River Trust which now owns over 7,000 acres of salmon habitat along the Hoh River. In 2009 WSC deeded 256 acres of land along Elk Creek, a tributary of the Calawah River, to the North Olympic Land Trust. Elk Creek is a major producer of to help coho, steelhead, and Chinook. Just last year the Elk Creek Conservation Area opened to the public with 1.25 miles of hiking trails and footbridge spanning the creek. Special thanks to our partners who helped bring these projects to life!
Prince Charles' new marine program has featured Vladimir Smirnov's salmon fishery in Sakhalin as one of 50 "bright spots" of sustainability. WSC has been working with Smirnov and other Russian partners to improve area fisheries and end illegal fishing in Sakhalin throughout the Russian Far East.
Prince Charles established the International Sustainability Unit (ISU) to facilitate consensus on how to resolve some of the key environmental challenges facing the world—such as food security, ecosystem resilience and the depletion of Natural Capital. ISU's Marine Programme was initiated to help strengthen consensus around the best solutions for the sustainable management of wild marine fish stocks, and to catalyze action in pursuit of these through partnerships between the public sector, the fishing industry, the wider private sector and NGOs.
- May 22, 2012: Please join us for a screening of "Red Gold"—an award-winning documentary on Alaska's Bristol Bay, the world's most abundant sockeye (red) salmon fishery, and the threats from the proposed Pebble Mine.
See flyer for more information. This event is free and open to the public. RSVP appreciated - email firstname.lastname@example.org or sign up on our Facebook page!
Hosted by Wild Salmon Center, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and Trout Unlimited.
- The May issue of the journal Environmental Biology of Fishes will feature 23 articles published as a result of the first international conference on the ecological impact between wild and hatchery salmon, hosted by State of the Salmon, and will reveal important new findings.