A giant mine proposed for southwest Alaska poses a direct threat to Bristol Bay’s salmon and the thousands of Pacific Northwest jobs that depend on them, according to a recent watershed assessment by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell announced Wednesday.
Many lower Columbia gillnetters earn most of their annual income from Bristol Bay’s massive sockeye salmon runs, which occurs each June.
According to the EPA’s report, if the Pebble Mine was built at the headwaters of the rivers that feed Bristol Bay, 24 to 94 miles of salmon streams would be destroyed. Also, another 48 to 62 miles of streams could be contaminated with toxic mine waste, and 1,300 to 5,250 acres of wetlands would be destroyed.
The report finds that if the dam built to contain toxic mine waste is susceptible to damage and if breached would have “catastrophic impacts on fishery resources.”
Wednesday, Cantwell (D-WA) urged the EPA to use its authority under the federal Clean Water Act to protect Bristol Bay salmon and the Northwest fishing economy that relies on them.
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“This report provides definitive evidence detailing the devastating impacts the Pebble Mine would have on the Northwest Maritime economy,” she said in a written statement. “The future of Bristol Bay must be determined by science, not politics.”
Cantwell has been fiercely fighting the mining proposal for more than two years in an effort to protect state jobs.
Thousands of Washington state jobs, such as fishing, processing, shipbuilding and the restaurant industry, depend on Bristol Bay’s healthy, sustainable wild salmon populations. The value of Bristol Bay commercial salmon fishing generates $1.5 billion in economic activity, according to the University of Alaska Institute of Social and Economic Research.
The EPA’s report also found that Bristol Bay salmon fishing and processing is worth $674 million to Washington, Oregon and California, creating 12,000 seasonal jobs and about 6,000 full-time jobs. Nearly 1,000 Washingtonians hold commercial fishing permits in Bristol Bay. Recreational salmon fishers alone produced an additional $75 million for Washington businesses.
The EPA has based its fisheries assessment on the size of known mineral deposits in the region. The amount of ore processed could range between 2 billion and 6.5 billion metric tons, the agency said. That would require a mine pit and tailings impoundments that could spread over an area of up to 16.8 square miles, according to the agency.