Homer Alaska - Opinion

Story last updated at 4:22 PM on Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Pebble risks too great

Bristol Bay fishery deserves protection


While economic woes have plagued many industrial sectors in Alaska, the seafood and commercial fishing industry has remained a bright spot in our economy, providing tens of millions of dollars in state tax revenue and employing thousands of workers each year.

Commercial fishing has played a primary role in Alaska communities for more than 100 years, and today it remains the largest private employer in the state. For many families, commercial fishing isn't just a profession, it's a tradition passed down from generation to generation. This is especially true for the Bristol Bay salmon fishery, which has been a steady source of income every year.

As spring turns to summer, Bristol Bay permit holders from all across the state of Alaska are preparing for yet another successful fishing season. Mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, family members young and old will join in to catch their share of Bristol Bay's world-famous sockeye salmon.

Sadly, as plans for the proposed Pebble mine continue, the future of commercial fishing in Southwest Alaska is at risk. Without swift action from state and federal officials, this legacy of Bristol Bay could soon be endangered.

Recently the Environmental Protection Agency released a scientific assessment of the Bristol Bay watershed. This independent review examines the long-term viability of our fishery and the impacts large-scale mining would have on nearby salmon populations. Additionally the agency reviewed technologies and practices to mitigate these impacts, determining whether a project the size of the proposed Pebble mine could be safely developed in the watershed.

Ultimately, the EPA came to the same conclusion many Alaskans have already made: Bristol Bay's fishery is one-of-a-kind and a mine like Pebble could cause permanent damage to salmon populations. While the assessment is a step in the right direction, actions must now be taken to protect Bristol Bay and the people who live and work there.

Since the mid-1800s commercial fishing in Bristol Bay has been a major source of revenue and jobs for Alaska. Today approximately 35 percent of Alaska's wild salmon comes from these waters, making our industry extremely competitive on the global market. Locally, commercial fishing means higher employment and a stronger economy, amounting to more than $330 million in annual revenue and creating 5,500 full-time jobs each year.

This boasts in comparison to the proposed Pebble mine, which would provide only 1,000 full time jobs — of which a small number might go to local residents.

The Bristol Bay salmon fishery is a model of sustainability and stewardship and contrasts with the short-term benefits and long-term liability of Pebble.

While proponents of the mine will tell you the two industries can co-exist, the odds of polluting Bristol Bay's spawning grounds are just too high to take the risk.

In June, the EPA will hold a series of public meetings for Alaskans to weigh in on the risks of hard rock mining in Bristol Bay. Whether you are from Nome, Ketchikan or Naknek, this issue matters to you because every Alaska community is linked to the seafood industry.

Seventy-five percent of modern day mines have experienced some form of disaster or dam failure. If that were to occur in Bristol Bay, the reputation of our seafood industry would be permanently damaged. That is why the EPA should use its authority under the Clean Water Act and protect the Bristol Bay watershed from large-scale mining. While other mines in Alaska can and have been developed safely, I cannot see a reasonable way forward for Pebble's development.

Commercial fishing has been a booming industry in Bristol Bay for hundreds of years and I hope it continues to boom for hundreds more. While we look over these waters today, it's our duty to hand them off responsibly to the generations of tomorrow. By working together, we can protect and preserve this fishery — and its benefits — in perpetuity. Future Alaskans deserve nothing less.

Longtime Alaska resident Mike Friccero makes a living from his home on Kodiak Island in the fishing and construction industries. He has fished in Bristol Bay for the last 30 years with his family, including wife, Gina, four children and extended foster families.