History shows salmon would be vulnerable to a big mine

COMPASS: Other points of view

April 11, 2009 

I thought the day I went to England I would take my daughter on an adventure, bring to life a little fantasy of the Old World to my little girl, Lakota. Guess I will just have to make a second trip over there to show her the sites, history and country she fantasizes about. This weekend I'm taking my first trip to England -- not for leisure, but to protect my way of life in my homeland of southwestern Alaska.

Bristol Bay has the world's largest wild salmon run on the planet, and London-based mining giant Anglo American wants to put the world's second-largest open pit mine there.

There is a little real-life fantasy for me in Great Britain as well. I try to imagine the River Thames 900 years ago, thriving with wild salmon, some up to 10 pounds, jumping in the river, fishermen on the sides of the banks complaining not of the lack of salmon but of their nets being so full they are bursting. Imagine all those fish returning to their individual streams to spawn, much as I have seen every summer since I can remember in Bristol Bay.

Great Britain is one of Alaska's leading importers of canned Bristol Bay wild salmon. Maybe there is an old memory that makes the British hungry. I think the people of Bristol Bay would be sad if our salmon were over-fished, unable to reach spawning grounds due to dams, or if the water wasn't suitable. The Pebble mine would obliterate miles of watershed and generate acid drainage and other pollution hazardous to salmon.

History has proven that salmon are susceptible to human disturbances. The wild salmon of Europe, the eastern United States, and now the western United States, if not depleted, are at record low numbers. In northern Alaska, specifically around the Nome area and also the Yukon River, where once salmon were plentiful, there are depleted runs.

The Bristol Bay watershed is no place for North America's largest open-pit mine. I am not the only one from my region who feels this way. We elected our state legislator, Bryce Edgmon, because he refused to ignore the Pebble Mine issue. "I will not stand by silently on the Pebble Mine debate," he said. Bryce is one of many local leaders who have taken a stand against the mine.

As a shareholder of Bristol Bay Native Corporation, I know that a high majority of shareholders/Bristol Bay Natives oppose the project. Bristol Bay is our home and we are the stewards of our own land.

Bristol Bay wild salmon provide for thousands, both residents and nonresidents. The whole area benefits from this reliable and sustainable resource, renewing and nourishing not only us but every living thing in the region. This has been a healthy cycle for thousands of years and will continue to be healthy and provide for all -- if we take care of it.

Anglo American says they show stewardship to the lands they develop, but a study of the company's track record last year showed environmental, social and public health problems at many of its major metal mining operations.

We are making a plea to Anglo American that the risk is too high to develop an enormous mine in such pristine habitat. We want no part of it.

We are in London to express our resistance to Anglo's plans for our back yard and to express that we do not want the Pebble mine or any other mine disrupting out way of life. I hope our visit catches the attention of Anglo American, leaders of the United States and our Alaska state government, jewelers, environmentalists, human rights groups and fishers. We will not stand by.

We are the stewards of our own traditional lands. We must ensure we have a healthy environment for all.


Everett Thompson of Naknek is a commercial fisherman and co-owner of Naknek Family Fisheries. He is in London as part of a delegation of Pebble mine opponents sponsored by commercial and sport fishing groups, Native corporations and environmental organizations.

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