Rescuing Bristol Bay
I am always humbled to learn more about today’s food industry from passionate professionals at conferences like the Chefs Collaborative Sustainable Food Summit, which I attended this September in Boulder, Colorado. Of particular interest, I attended a lecture highlighting the proposed Pebble Mining Project in Bristol Bay, Alaska. If developed, Pebble Mine would be the largest copper-gold-porphyry effort ever attempted. To extract a significant amount of mineral from the deposit, an area larger than Manhattan would be required for mining and waste rock, which would have an unprecedented effect on the area’s natural resources.
The proposed mine would drastically alter the ecosystem of one of the most pristine wild salmon habitats in the world and potentially diminish salmon supplies. Nearly half of the world’s supply of sockeye salmon is caught in Bristol Bay, as well as many other salmon species and smaller commercial fish. In July, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a Proposed Determination that predicted loss of streams, wetlands, lakes and ponds as well as streamflow alterations as a result of mining the Pebble deposit. These predicted effects will likely reduce survival, growth and reproduction; sensory acuity; ability to find food; and ability to avoid potential predators in salmon populations. These effects could ultimately decimate the healthy salmon population currently thriving in Bristol Bay.
A healthy salmon fishery is important not only from a commercial and economic standpoint but also for subsistence fishing by native Alaskans. After a three-year study considering the potential impacts this mining activity would have on Bristol Bay, the EPA has halted movement to mine in consideration of the Clean Water Act and the inability to determine that the pristine ecosystem in Bristol Bay would not be forever altered by adverse effects. A determination will be made in 2015 regarding how to move forward.
This news of postponement was shared as an update at the Summit. And you, our chefs who recognize the importance of this wild, responsibly-managed resource and continue to create a demand for it, are making a huge impact on the survival of the industry and the ecosystem that supports it. Many of the local fishermen made a tribute video to the Chefs Collaborative to honor and thank the organization and chefs who are helping to make a difference with their menu choices.
For the EPA’s full report on Bristol Bay and the proposed Pebble Mining, visit www2.epa.gov/bristolbay.
Good Catch Coordinator
Photo By Jim Klug, Photo Courtesy of Trout Unlimited