Sportfishing Industry Commends Comprehensive Bristol Bay Watershed Study
The American Sportfishing Association (ASA) commends the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for conducting a draft scientific study of the Bristol Bay watershed in Alaska and the scope of its natural resources. The EPA, in conjunction with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, released this assessment in response to intense interest and public concern surrounding the proposed Pebble Mine. The report recognizes Bristol Bay’s world-class fisheries, including the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery, and the impending threats that potential mining projects, such as Pebble Mine, pose to this unmatched natural, public resource.
“This comprehensive interagency report represents the first step taken in a long process to protect Bristol Bay’s fisheries and the other natural resources that are so important to sportsmen and women, Alaskan natives and other citizens and visitors of the area,” said ASA Vice President Gordon Robertson. “The sportfishing industry thanks the EPA for its commitment to conduct an objective analysis of the impacts of mining on this unmatched environment and its fisheries resources. This assessment overwhelmingly supports what the sportfishing community has been advocating for – denial of Pebble Mine permits under the Clean Water Act.”
After the recent discovery of large mineral resources in the Bristol Bay region, increasing pressure to develop these deposits has resulted in several mining proposals. Pebble Mine, the largest mining proposal, could become a 20-square mile mining complex, making it 30 times larger than the current largest mine in Alaska. The EPA’s assessment concludes that large-scale mining projects in Bristol Bay could cause irreparable damage to fisheries through blocked streams and wetland loss, tailings dam failure, toxic spills and more. Even under no-failure scenarios, the assessment predicts “impacts on fish resulting from habitat loss and modification.” Certain failure scenarios would result in the degradation and loss of critical spawning and rearing habitat for decades, and the near loss of certain fish populations. These impacts would be felt throughout the ecosystem, which is built upon healthy salmon populations.
If allowed to open, the Pebble Mine could produce up to 10 billion tons of toxic waste over its lifetime, which will need to be contained in perpetuity because of the impact of its acidic byproducts. This waste will be stored in a in a ten square-mile containment pond and held back from the freshwater habitat of the Bay by the world’s largest earthen dam. This area is known for frequent earthquakes, putting the watershed at great risk for a toxic spill, which would cause severe and possibly irreparable damage to the fishery and the bay.
“Sportsmen and women care deeply about conserving Bristol Bay’s fisheries and fish habitat, and have a strong heritage and legacy of conservation,” said Robertson. “Bristol Bay is one of the world’s great sportfishing destinations, mainly because the bay’s freshwater habitat is largely untouched by development, with a tradition that has been passed down for generations. It supports the world’s largest sockeye salmon runs, healthy runs of king, Coho, chum and pink salmon and provides habitat for important sportfish such as rainbow trout.”
Robertson concluded, “According to the assessment, Bristol Bay’s sportfishing industry generates $60 million annually in direct expenditures alone. This study confirms what our community already knew from a resource and economic standpoint. We just can’t afford to gamble on the potential consequences of such a valuable public resource. We are now at a critical point that will help determine the EPA’s decision of whether or not to deny mining permits. ASA, along with the outdoor community, requests that the EPA use its power under the Clean Water Act to protect Bristol Bay from the proposed Pebble Mine and other irresponsible development in this priceless resource.”
To read more about mining development in Alaska’s Bristol Bay and the draft assessment, visit: http://yosemite.epa.gov/R10/ecocomm.nsf/bristol+bay/bristolbay.