Bristol Bay Fishery Must be Protected

Posted 2.22.11 by Renewable Resources Coalition

The Environmental Protection Agency is taking a good first step to protect Alaska's Bristol Bay with a scientific assessment. Guest columnist Jenna Hall writes the assessment will help evaluate threats posed to Alaskan sockeye by a proposed mine.

By Jenna Hall

Special to The Times

THE U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently announced it will conduct a scientific assessment of the Bristol Bay watershed at the urging of Alaskan Natives, sports-fishing and tourist groups, and the commercial fishing industry.

EPA's decision is a good first step toward protecting Bristol Bay from the potentially devastating impact of large-scale mining such as Pebble Mine. For those of us who rely on the fishery for our livelihood and for those who simply enjoy eating wild Alaskan sockeye, this is a monumental step in the right direction.

Every June and July, millions of wild salmon migrate to Bristol Bay's pristine streams and rivers to reproduce. These returning wild sockeye or "red" salmon have been a staple of the Bristol Bay ecosystem for hundreds of thousands of years.

Today, Bristol Bay is home to the world's largest and most productive commercial salmon fishery, producing a third of all sockeye consumed globally. Even with the massive volume of salmon harvested each year, the Marine Stewardship Council, an authority on sustainable fisheries worldwide, has certified the Bristol Bay fishery as sustainable and well-managed.

Unlike some salmon-producing regions elsewhere around the Pacific Ocean, the sockeye salmon of Bristol Bay have consistently bounced back from record low returns. The commercial fishing industry is an important economy in this part of Alaska, contributing more than $320 million annually, and fishing profits also feed countless families down south.

Pebble Mine could change all this. Slight disturbances in water quality can affect salmon spawning behavior and salmonoid development. The proposed Pebble Mine would include hard-rock mining activity, which has been recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency as responsible for releasing the highest amount of toxic materials of any industry in the United States.

The proposed Pebble Mine would include the world's largest dam, built to permanently store all mining runoff in a tailings pond. In a seismically active area such as Bristol Bay, it is nearly impossible to guarantee the stability of any structure, let alone an open lake of toxic sludge and mining waste.

The Bristol Bay sockeye salmon industry remains a shining example of a well-managed and successful fishery, yet it will take courage and commitment to react to the huge challenges that threaten the fishery. The EPA is rising to this challenge.

But, in the end, the future of the world's last great sockeye salmon fishery lay in the hands of those of us who enjoy eating wild salmon. It is easy to show your support by asking for Bristol Bay salmon from your local grocery store.

You can also write to the EPA in support of their action by visiting

Jenna Hall is vice president of Snopac Products Inc., an Alaskan seafood processor with more than 30 years experience in Bristol Bay.