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Healthy fish crucial to Bristol Bay

Voices of Alaska

Posted: May 21, 2012 - 9:25am  |  Updated: May 21, 2012 - 9:33am

As many Alaskans know, there are some unbeatable places to work, hunt and fish throughout this state -- and in many cases not far from our back porch. As seasoned guides and lodge owners we've had the opportunity to live, work, and play in one of the state's crown jewels -- Bristol Bay. Over the years we've introduced thousands of travelers -- some Alaskans, others from Outside -- to this pristine region and the trophy sized fish of Bristol Bay's famed rivers.

Bristol Bay is on the map because of fish. For over 75 years anglers from far and wide have flocked to this area to catch hauntingly large rainbow trout and salmon in numbers found nowhere else in the world. In 1950, the region's lodge and tourism industry was born when Ray Peterson, Sonny's dad, founded Anglers Paradise lodges. By 1959 over 1,000 guests visited Peterson's famous Brooks Lodge each summer. Today nearly 65,000 recreational travelers come to Bristol Bay each year to experience world-class fishing at one of approximately 70 lodges or do-it-yourself campsites. For Alaskans this has created a flourishing economy, with sport fishing generating more than 800 jobs and $60 million in revenue each year.

Sadly, the threat of large-scale mining could soon make one of the region's most well-established economic engines a thing of the past. That's because in addition to the bountiful fish population, Bristol Bay is also home to one of the world's largest gold, copper, and molybdenum deposits. The threats of hard rock mining -- most notably, Pebble Mine -- to the fish and wildlife habitat in this region are severe.

While proponents of the mine say there is little chance of harming the fish, other experts offer some real concerns. For example, small amounts of copper above naturally occurring levels in water can significantly impact a salmon's ability to find its natal spawning stream. Pebble is much larger than all other hard rock mines in Alaska combined and estimated to produce nearly 10 billion tons of waste to be permanently stored on site in the seismically active region. Additionally, the mining industry has a poor track record when it comes to maintaining existing water quality. Today very few hard rock mines -- if any -- haven't had some sort of water quality impact in the US.

Bristol Bay's existing jobs and culture depend on healthy runs of fish. A mine the size of Pebble has never been built in North America, and certainly not in such important fish habitat. At best Pebble is an experiment -- and Alaskans can't afford to experiment with existing jobs, healthy wildlife populations, and world renowned hunting and fishing opportunities.

This week the Environmental Protection Agency released an assessment of the Bristol Bay Watershed. In it they came to the same conclusion many Alaskans have already made - the potential threats of a mine like Pebble could permanently destroy this one-of-a-kind fishery. While it's an important step in the right direction, the pursuit to protect Bristol Bay is not over. The EPA should invoke their authority through the Clean Water Act Section 404(c) to protect the watershed from future mining or large-scale development. These restrictions are rooted in well-established precedents and long-standing policies within the Clean Water Act 404 program, and would provide long-term security for the people of Bristol Bay and Alaska's economy.

Bud Hodson has been in the Alaska sportfishing business for over 32 years and is a long-time Alaskan. He owns and operates Tikchik Narrows Lodge, one of Bristol Bay's first lodges, and has been instrumental in building the strong, successful sport fishing economy in Bristol Bay. Sonny Petersen is owner and operator of Katmailand, and his family pioneered the sport fishing and tourism in Bristol Bay. In 1974 he began an air taxi operation, Katmai Air and today he spends his summers managing the three lodges and Katmai Air while spends his winters in Anchorage preparing for the next season.

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spwright 05/21/12 - 12:02 pm
Who are You Going to Believe ?5/21/12

To be Honest, I don't Know Who to Believe with this Pebble Mine Issue ?

A Mega Millionaire Wall Street Investor is providing most of the funding for the Anti-Pebble issue $Millions$ of Dollars.
I will NEVER Trust the word of a Wall Street Investor.
They have Proven time & time again & again that Wall Street
can NOT Be Trusted.

The "Fish Huggers" constantly state Not In My Back Yard & are always against any development that does not benefit the Fishing Industry.
Bristol Bay really is one of the Most "Cut Throat" private businesses in the state. Don't believe me ? Just make the mistake of falling overboard during a Fish Opening & watch those Fishing Boats drive those Boats right over you.

Then there are all sorts of T V Ads for Pebble Mine Corporation that state that Fishing & Mining can co-exist without any problems.

I don't know Who to Believe ?

I sincerely do want to Trust the State of Alaska Permitting Process to find the Truth in this issue.

Then I will make a decision about Who to Trust.

Retiree SPW "Airborne"

robert white
robert white 05/22/12 - 11:11 am

I don't think any of us should be to concerned, this project will be tied up in court for decades.

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