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Study of Mining Impacts on Alaskan Salmon Fishery Applauded

17 January 2014

US - Alaska Native tribes, jewelers, investors, commercial fishermen and conservation groups have called on the Obama Administration to use its Clean Water Act authority to protect world's largest wild salmon fishery and 14,000 jobs from large-scale mining such as Pebble.

The groups applauded the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) final scientific assessment of Alaska’s Bristol Bay watershed.

The study documents the global significance of the Bristol Bay wild salmon fishery - the largest sockeye salmon fishery in the world - and highlights the severe impacts and risks of large-scale mining, including the proposed Pebble Mine, in the Bristol Bay watershed.

“It’s time for the EPA to take immediate steps to protect the fishery, the Alaska Native communities who rely on it as their primary source of food, and the 14,000 jobs that depend on it,” said Luki Akelkok, Chariman of Nunamta Aulukestai, an association of ten Bristol Bay Native Tribes and Native Village Corporations, and a sport-fishing lodge owner.

“There are some places where mining cannot be done without forever damaging landscapes, wildlife, businesses, and communities,” said Michael J. Kowalski, Chairman and CEO, Tiffany & Co.

He continued, “Bristol Bay is one such place. We, along with many of our fellow jewelers, urge the EPA to use its authority under the Clean Water Act to safeguard Bristol Bay and the communities and fishery it supports.”

The Bristol Bay salmon fishery produces nearly 50 per cent of the world’s supply of sockeye. It provides at least 14,000 full and part time jobs, and it is valued at $480 million annually.

The peer-reviewed EPA study concluded that even under routine operation, mining the Pebble deposit would have severe and lasting consequences:

  • destroying up to 94 miles of salmon streams and 5,350 acres of wetlands, lakes and ponds.
  • harming 33 miles of streams through reduced flows, resulting in reduced salmon production.
  • generating water pollution from billions of tons of toxic mine waste that would require capture and treatment long after mining concludes, and potentially in perpetuity.

Alaska Native Tribes and commercial fishermen have petitioned the EPA to use its power under the Clean Water Act’s section 404(c) to protect the fishery by restricting harmful mine waste disposal.

There is broad support for this approach. Of the 890,000 public comments received by the EPA on the draft study, 98 per cent of Bristol Bay comments, 85 per cent of Alaska comments, and 73 per cent of national comments support EPA action to protect Bristol Bay.

“As investors, we support a responsible, science based approach to resource development,” said Jonas Kron, senior Vice President of Trillium Assets Management. “Anglo American’s withdrawal from the project highlights significant business and investment risks. We urge the EPA to take immediate steps to initiate the 404(c) process to protect the fishery and provide regulatory clarity,” he continued.

“Thousands of hardworking commercial fishermen rely on the Bristol Bay fishery, and we’re proud to provide a sustainable and healthy source of food for the nation,” said Bob Waldrop, Executive Director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association.

“Our industry is the economic engine for the region, and we’re calling on the Obama Administration to take immediate steps to protect it from all large-scale mining in the Bristol Bay drainages.”

“The fate of our nation’s greatest salmon fishery, and all the jobs that depend on it, now rests with the EPA,” said Jennifer Krill, Executive Director of Earthworks, a national conservation group.

“The EPA needs to follow the science and protect this unparalleled renewable resource.”

Over 100 jewelers have expressed support for protecting the Bristol Bay watershed. In a recent letter, 29 investors, representing billions in assets, expressed support for the 404(c) process as a responsible approach, when considering large-scale mineral development. Churches, restaurants, supermarkets, chefs, and other diverse interests have also expressed support for EPA 404(c) action.

TheFishSite News Desk

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