Oregonians have stake in Bristol Bay-Pebble Mine fight; The Bend Bulletin December 6, 2011

December 6, 2011
The Bend Bulletin
Brian O'Keefe

I’ve had the great fortune to have fished all over the world — in salt water, fresh water, tropical zones, cold water and everything in between. What started as a 30-plus year career traveling to exotic places with rod and camera began in Bristol Bay, Alaska — where I first traveled in 1975, then guided for a few years starting in 1979.

Bristol Bay is like a fishing rite of passage. Last summer, more than 50 fishing guides from Oregon earned their wages helping clients land gorgeous rainbow trout on the fly. Others went to manage camps and lodges on remote rivers. Joining them in this migration north were several hundred commercial fishermen and crew from Oregon who haul in the huge, sustainable sockeye salmon run for which the region is famed.

In 2010, over 13,000 Oregonians bought licenses to sport fish in Alaska. Bristol Bay is host to all five salmon species, as well as the largest sockeye run in the world. Up to 60 million sockeye salmon return to Bristol Bay every year, and the region accounts for nearly half of the sockeye salmon harvest on the planet. Oregon businesses recognize this sustainable wild food source and bring it to customers here, at quality grocery stores and numerous restaurants around the state that serve Bristol Bay salmon.

While there are some disagreements over fish policy here in Oregon between commercial and sport fishermen, both commercial and sport fisherman depend on Bristol Bay and there is no disagreement that this priceless place must be saved. That is why both sides have joined together to fight for Bristol Bay and their livelihoods.

What makes the fishing possible is not only an intact ecosystem, but also a healthy industry, community and infrastructure that support lots of jobs — for the people who guide, fly floatplanes and work in lodges, canneries, fishing boats, and on the docks. Their jobs and the very habitat and fishery that support them are under threat from a proposed gold, copper and molybdenum mine called Pebble.

If built, Pebble Mine would be one of the largest mines in the world, excavating an open pit mine several miles wide and 1,700 feet deep, in addition to an underground mine of similar size. All of this — in addition to massive waste tailings “ponds” held back behind 700-foot tall earthen dams — is planned for development near the headwaters of Bristol Bay in an area known for powerful earthquakes.

Thankfully, there’s a broad coalition of folks working to protect Bristol Bay from the risks of Pebble Mine. Oregon has been in the fight from the start. Fifty Oregon business and fishing conservation groups have signed a letter asking the White House to support the Environmental Protection Agency’s Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment to determine whether such massive-scale mining projects would have an adverse effect on the natural resources and fisheries there. If the EPA determined that dredging and fill material from mining could have such an adverse impact, it could use a power under the Clean Water Act called 404(c) authority to block development of the mine.

Oregonians need to speak up for Bristol Bay. It is part of the heritage and livelihoods of our commercial fishing fleet and our sport fishermen, and a major source of the wild salmon we purchase.

I hope you’ll join us for the Save Bristol Bay Road Show at 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 2, at the The Old Stone, 157 Franklin Ave., in Bend. This free event includes a screening of the award-winning film “Red Gold,” salmon appetizers and local brews. Plus, you’ll get an update on the Save Bristol Bay campaign. For more information, see www.savebristolbay.org.

Another thing you can do is to write or call the offices of Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley and urge them to protect Bristol Bay, helping ensure it’s there for future generations.

— Brian O’Keefe lives in Bend.

from The Bend Bulletin