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World’s main sockeye fishery, in Bristol Bay, could be harmed by a gold and copper mine.

Bristol Bay’s mining firm proposal forecast to harm sockeye

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Friday, October 13, 2017, 21:50 (GMT + 9)

Scientists from the University of Washington have warned that the world’s main sockeye fishery, in Bristol Bay, could be harmed by a gold and copper mine a firm intends to build in the area.

Official figures revealed that this year 56 million sockeye salmon swam hundreds of miles from the ocean toward the rivers and streams of the Bristol Bay watershed in southwest Alaska, CNN reported.

Thomas Quinn, a professor at the University of Washington who has been studying fish in Bristol Bay for 30 years, expressed concerns that this cycle could be strained if not broken.

The returning salmon and other ecological resources create some 14,000 full- and part-time jobs, generate about USD 480 million annually -- and support 4,000-year-old Alaska Native cultures.

However, for more than 15 years, Northern Dynasty Minerals, a Canadian mining company, has sought to build a gold and copper mine in Bristol Bay. And this spring, the Trump administration took swift action to make that prospect more likely.

Scott Pruitt, head of the EPA (Photo:theinertia.com)

After a meeting held in May between Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head Scott Pruitt with the CEO of the Pebble Limited Partnership, a subsidiary of the mining company, Obama-era protections for Bristol Bay, which had been created after years of scientific review, were reversed.

Two public hearings will be held in Alaska on the topic this week. And the public has until October 17 to comment on Pruitt's proposed policy reversal before it could be finalized.Among the critics likely to contact the agency are representatives from Alaska Native communities in Bristol Bay, as well as scientists like Quinn, who has dedicated his professional life to researching the area.

Quinn's concerns are based on his years researching the bay, which were incorporated into a 2014 EPA report on Bristol Bay under the Obama administration. The report, which also was based on Pebble's filings with the US Securities and Exchange Commission, estimated the total mine site could be larger than Manhattan and nearly as deep as the Grand Canyon.

Such a mine "would result in complete loss of fish habitat due to elimination, dewatering, and fragmentation of streams, wetlands, and other aquatic resources" in some areas of the bay watershed, the EPA found after three years of peer-reviewed research. In particular, the EPA estimated 22 miles of streams and more than 6 square miles of wetlands and other habitats that are important to salmon and other fish would be lost to a large-scale mine.

Pruitt's EPA, however, contends Pebble should be allowed to submit permit applications before the merits of its project are judged. "EPA's review will be based on the whole record, all the science and an actual proposal from the company," EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman told CNN.

        

         Tom Collier, CEO of the Pebble Limited Partnership company. (Photo: Stock File)

Pebble plans to file permit applications in December, said Tom Collier, the company's CEO. The mine proposal will be much smaller than the EPA expected, he said, and not ecologically damaging. In a recent presentation before Alaska's Resource Development Council, which was posted on the company's website, Collier indicated Pebble hopes to develop a mine that would cover 5.4 square miles, with the total mine site occupying 12.7 square miles. The mine would be developed in a "safe, environmentally responsible manner," the company said.

Some researchers, however, maintain the company's approach is shortsighted at best.

Related article:

Deal between EPA and Pebble Partnership worries salmon fishermen
 
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