Pebble Mine opponents put value of Bristol Bay fishery at $1.5 billion

May 9, 2013

Though it’s thousands of miles away, a proposed mine for gold and copper in Alaska’s Bristol Bay threatens to destroy the livelihood of thousands of people in the Puget Sound area. 

Seattle’s fleet of commercial fishermen and seafood processors have been a big part of the opposition to the so-called Pebble Mine.

A new economic report puts the value of Bristol Bay’s salmon at $1.5 billion per year, and says more than a quarter of the jobs it generates are located in Washington state.

The report comes as a May 31 deadline looms for comments on the EPA’s assessment of the Bristol Bay watershed, a damning scientific document that may determine the future of the Pebble Mine.

According to the assessment, even in a best case scenario—with no leaks or failures—the sprawling mine would destroy up to 90 miles of salmon streams and up to 4,800 acres of wetlands.

People who depend on Bristol Bay for their livelihood are worried.

“We really cannot risk what we have here in Bristol Bay to a giant open-pit mine and the profits of two foreign mining companies,” said Katherine Carscallen who spoke on a conference call publicizing the report.

Carscallen, who grew up working on her parents fishing boat in Bristol Bay and now captains one of her own, said the wealth generated by Southwest Alaska’s salmon runs has helped generations of young people pay for college.

"And we don’t have a lot of industries like this that are still accessible to my generation. And I really don’t see how the Pebble Mine could be allowed to trump a sustainable industry, like we have," she said. 

Also on the call was the vice president of Seattle’s Trident Seafood, which has been working Bristol Bay since the mid-70s and employs hundreds of people there every season.  

And Jonathan Hillstrand, captain of the Discovery Channel’s "Deadliest Catch", said he is offended that the project wasn’t called off after his community voted it down in a referendum more than a year ago.

But the victory was a narrow one. Many political leaders in Alaska still support the mine, arguing it would bring good jobs and improved infrastructure. And some are calling on the EPA to withdraw its assessment, which it is expected to finalize by the end of this year.