'Save Bristol Bay Road Show' to highlight risk to jobs in Seattle

Oct 17, 2011

It’s thousands of miles away, but supporters of a campaign to stop a controversial mine proposal in Alaska say it would harm more than just the pristine ecosystem where it’s located.

They’re launching a “Save Bristol Bay Road Show” in Seattle tonight, claiming the city’s fishing industry could lose thousands of jobs if the mine is built. 

Prospectors say Pebble Mine would take advantage of the largest undeveloped deposit of gold, copper and molybdenum in the world. Its value is estimated at up to $500 billion dollars.

But its location in a roadless area in Southwest Alaska, is also one of the world’s richest breeding grounds for salmon. The system of rivers that feed into Bristol Bay sees the return of millions of salmon every year.

“It’s a miracle to behold. I’ve seen the salmon create a wall in the water because they come in with such force,” says Melanie Brown, an Alaska Native and commercial fisherman who says she’s spent every summer of her life in Bristol Bay. 

Connecting the dots

She’s part of the PR road show that starts in Seattle and will travel to six cities over the next two weeks. Brown says the potential for catastrophic pollution from the proposed mine is too great a risk to take because it could knock out the salmon runs.

“Whether we have a direct line to it, like I do, or whether you’re a salmon consumer who purchases it from a distance, it’s an amazing resource and I believe that we’re all connected to it.”

Joining her on the tour is Seattle resident Ben Blakey, who says his family’s fish processing company, Snopac, depends entirely on the Bristol Bay salmon runs, as do several other local processors. And he says there are close to a thousand Bristol Bay fishermen based in Washington.

“And those are just permit holders. Each one of those permit holders employs crew members and they rely on mechanics and they order parts from fisheries supply here in Seattle.”

Others tout benefits

The campaign is ultimately aimed at pressuring the Environmental Protection Agency to deny permits for Pebble Mine.

An Alaska-based group called The Truth About Pebble has called for boycotts on companies supporting the Save Bristol Bay campaign.

They say the fishing industry is no longer sufficient to support a family in Alaska and many in the region have sold their commercial fishing permits to survive. Aside from jobs, they also say the mining operations could bring benefits such as low cost power and improved infrastructure to Bristol Bay.