Bristol Bay, Alaska© Ryan Peterson

Bristol Bay


Bristol Bay

Protecting Alaska’s greatest salmon fishery

Bristol Bay is home to one of the most important wild salmon fisheries on Earth. Annual sockeye salmon returns here top 60 million fish, feeding a wide variety of wildlife and human communities, from grizzly bears to Alaska Native families to a globally important commercial fishery.

Bristol Bay sockeye

But the Pebble Mine threatens all of that.

The Mine

One of the greatest threats to Alaskan salmon is the proposed Pebble Mine at the headwaters of the Nushagak and Kvichak rivers in the Bristol Bay region. If constructed, Pebble would be one of the world’s largest open pit copper/gold/molybdenum mines, with an earthen dam 60-stories tall that would ultimately hold up to 10 billion tons of toxic tailings and contaminated water — forever. The mine and tailings lake would sit just north of Iliamna Lake, the largest lake in Alaska and one of the most important sockeye salmon nurseries in the world.

What’s at Stake

Hanging in the balance is a $1.5 billion-a-year salmon fishing economy and an important subsistence food source for Bristol Bay communities.

A subsistence fisherman in Bristol Bay.

Commercial salmon fishing in Bristol Bay employs more than 14,000 people every year, from seasoned boat captains to young deckhands paying their way through college to workers in processing facilities.

Sportfishing tourism brings in at least $75 million a year to the local economy and draws fishermen and women from the around the world.

Subsistence salmon fishing for 31 federally recognized Alaska Native tribes in Bristol Bay continues a tradition several thousand years old. Salmon is a critical food source — up to 65% of protein consumed in rural Alaska communities comes from salmon.

Time for Congress to Take Action

Pebble’s federal clean water permit application is now under review in Washington, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is fast tracking it despite huge unexplained risks and information gaps:

  • Direct harm to 80 miles of salmon streams and 3,000 acres of wetlands;
  • 10.6 billion gallons of polluted wastewater annually headed for Bristol Bay watersheds;
  • Earthen dam used to store mine waste despite these dams’ notoriously poor failure record around the world in recent years;
  • Pebble’s failure to provide a basic economic analysis, explaining how the mine will pencil out.

It’s time for Congress and the administration to pause this questionable permitting process for a toxic mine in one of the world’s most important salmon ecosystems.

Bristol Bay Sockeye
© Ken Morrish

Pebble Mine at a Glance

2005: Pebble East deposit discovered by Northern Dynasty, a Canadian company based in Vancouver.

In 2012, Wild Salmon Center developed a technical report that examines the threats to Bristol Bay’s wild salmon fisheries posed by the Pebble Mine.

In 2014, the Environmental Protection Agency initiated a process using its authority under the Clean Water Act to protect Bristol Bay’s headwaters.  But that did not stop the Pebble Mine. Northern Dynasty, the mine’s sole remaining partner, launched a costly legal battle that stalled EPA’s efforts.

In May 2017, Northern Dynasty cut a deal with the Trump Administration’s new EPA administrator to reverse course and halt the Clean Water Act protection process. And later that year the mine filed for its federal permits to begin construction, under an extremely expedited schedule.

February 2019: The Army Corps of Engineers released a draft environmental impact statement, with an opportunity for public comment through July 1. But the Army Corps’ review fails to hold the Canadian mining company behind Pebble accountable on basic questions about how and where they plan to mine, and — mostly importantly — how they plan to protect the people, the clean water, the fishery, and the jobs of Bristol Bay.

Today: We are calling out the flaws in Pebble’s lobbying and the Army Corps review with a new report. And we are working as a science and policy partner with Alaskan allies, including the Defend Bristol Bay campaign. We simply cannot allow a high-risk mine to threaten Bristol Bay’s healthy salmon runs and the people who depend them.

© Ben Knight
$1.5 billion: value of Bristol Bay salmon fishing economy
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