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Bristol Bay and The Pebble Mine Project

By Dale Mayo

Sockeye Salmon

Sockeye, lots and lots of them, near Pope Vannoy Landing this past summer. 2015 proved to be the second largest Bristol Bay return on record, and the predictions for 2016 suggest it'll be another big year, too.

Photo Credit: Michelle Ravenmoon[1]


While the world is focused on coronavirus and keeping food on the table…

At the same time the President is pushing to keep the meat supply chain working, Alaska’s Governor Dunleavy is pushing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to fast-track approval for a mine that would put at risk the world’s largest spawning ground for sockeye salmon.  Meat processing plants have been affected by COVID-19 so some grocery chains are not receiving their usual products and are limiting the amount of meat that individuals can purchase.[2]  This has increased the demand on the seafood industry to fill in where meat producers are falling short.  Americans are turning to seafood as a healthy dietary protein and during the lockdown, when their favorite restaurant is closed, they’re cooking more seafood at home.[3] 

The Pebble Mine project, if built, would almost certainly contaminate Bristol Bay, Alaska, which supports all five Pacific salmon species including approximately 46% of the world’s wild sockeye salmon.[4]  Almost half of the Bristol Bay salmon production comes from the Nushagak and Kvichak River watersheds – two of the most endangered rivers in America.[5]  The threat to the Nushagak and Kvichak rivers is from the proposed massive open-pit copper and gold mine, which would also require an 84-mile transportation corridor that would further endanger pristine ecosystems in southwest Alaska. [6], [7], [8]   

A 2014 report from the US Environmental Protection Agency – after years of rigorous scientific research on the watershed’s importance - describes how risky even a small mine would be.  Key findings are shown in the box below.



EPA Bristol Bay Project

The Pebble Mine project was considered dead after the prior administration ruled that it posed too grave a threat to the world’s largest run of sockeye salmon in nearby Bristol Bay. With the change in the administration, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has recently ruled it will NOT oppose Pebble Mine, which leaves the decision up to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) — an agency with a dismal environmental record.[9]  The Army Corps released a rushed Draft Environmental Impact Statement – with large gaps – an excellent summary of problems with the Draft EIS is provided by Earthjustice.


The project is overwhelmingly opposed by Alaskans.[10]  Even the jewelry industry, which uses about half the gold that is mined each year, is opposed to the Pebble Mine project. In 2014, the chairman and CEO of Tiffany & Co., Michael Kowalski said that “The possibility of this ending in disaster is so high, it’s hard to see how any mining company could go forward.”[11]


This effort to push through the Pebble Mine approval is happening while the attention of the world is focused on the coronavirus that has infected more than 3.6 million people worldwide and has caused almost 70,000 deaths in the United States (as of May 5, 2020).[12]  Minorities – black, Hispanic, and Native American populations – are at higher risk of infection and death than the white population. [13], [14]  The communities of Bristol Bay – including Curyung Tribal Council - have requested that the Army Corps of Engineers halt the permit review process until the coronavirus crisis has ended.[15]  Two of the only remaining sustainable salmon-based cultures in the world -- the Alaska Native Yup’ik and Dena’ina -- are present in the Nushagak and Kvichak River watersheds.  The other Pacific Northwest salmon-based cultures have already been severely threatened by development, degraded natural resources, and declining salmon resources.[16]


Bristol Bay

Grizley Bears on the Lake

Grizzly bears on Naknek Lake in Katmai National Park. Paxzon Woelber, Cinders to Sea Expedition (from American Rivers website: Rivers of Bristol Bay, Alaska


The Bristol Bay watershed provides habitat for 29 fishes, more than 190 birds, and more than 40 terrestrial mammals and rare freshwater harbor seals.  The salmon hatch and rear in fresh water, migrate to the sea and grow to adult size, and return to spawn in freshwater systems.  The Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Gene Conservation Laboratory has determined from genetic sampling that there are 140 distinct populations of sockeye salmon that range in southwest Alaska (see map below).  A gorgeous video from Fly Out Media, Salmon Country, shows salmon and bears in the pristine rivers that flow into Bristol Bay.  The Bristol Bay commercial fishery supports 14,000 sustainable American jobs worth $1.5 billion annually. These rivers also sustain two of the last intact, sustainable, salmon-based cultures in the world and provide clean drinking water for several thousand rural residents.[17] 


Fish and Game

From the Alaska Fish and Game website:


Pebble Mine

If built, Pebble Mine would be a massive pit one mile in diameter and 600 feet deep. The site would destroy 3,500 acres of wetlands and more than 80 miles of salmon streams.  The only route to get the material from the mine to market is an 80+ mile transportation corridor including roads and a gas pipeline.  Three port facilities and an ice-breaking boat to cross Alaska’s largest lake – Lake Iliamna, which is home to rare fresh-water harbor seals – would be needed.[18]  The site would produce an estimated 10 billion tons of waste. Earthen dams would hold back toxic mine tailings, all in earthquake country, in the headwaters of Bristol Bay.  Further, the firm hired by Northern Dynasty to build the earthen dams at Pebble is the same firm that built a failed dam in British Columbia, Canada, which dumped a toxic slurry into downstream lakes and waterways (see Vancouver Sun video on youtube).[19]  Mining companies do not pay for the cleanup – US and Canadian taxpayers do.  In 2014, the EPA reported that 40% of watershed headwaters in the western US have been contaminated by mining operations. Many of these are tiny sites.  The EPA plans to clean – for over $35 billion (2014 estimate) -- the roughly 500,000 defunct metal mines in 32 western states.[20]

What you can do

Stay informed, sign the petitions, and/or donate at

American Rivers

Bristol Bay Defense Fund




Natural Resources Defense Council

Save Bristol Bay

Sierra Club

Trout Unlimited

United Tribes of Bristol Bay

Wild Salmon Center

World Wildlife Fund

Swan River

The Swan River in southwest Alaska is part of the pristine Bristol Bay ecosystem, which would be negatively impacted by a proposed large-scale mining operation. (Photo:  Carl Johnson, Seattle Times, July 21, 2017[21])

Importance of sustainable sourcing

As you know, is a purveyor of high quality fish – including coho and sockeye salmon.  We have many years of experience sourcing, preparing, and packaging the best seafood.  We want to be able to continue supplying all the first-quality seafood that our customers have come to expect from us.  Eating high-quality seafood is not only good our customers, but also for earth, with natural, sustainably sourced seafood.  We hope that Bristol Bay will be protected and that the world’s sockeye salmon supply will not be cut in half by the likely disaster that Pebble Mine would bring.

You can trust us to supply you with pure natural fish portions, with tools and tips for quick easy preparation, and with honest information about the benefits you are receiving from Sizzlefish products.


[1] Photo on KDLG Public Radio website in article:  Dave Bendinger. UW Fisheries Research Institute predicts 50.9 million Bristol Bay sockeye return in 2016. KDLG Public Radio for Alaska’s Bristol Bay. Nov. 12, 2015.

[2] Sistrand, Carolyn. Limit on meat purchases in supermarkets causing consumers to head to farms, butchers. WBKN News. May 4, 2020.

[3] Wells, Pete. A quarantine surprise:  Americans are cooking more seafood. The New York Times. May 5, 2020.

[4] U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (2014) An Assessment of Potential Mining Impacts on Salmon Ecosystems of Bristol Bay, Alaska (Report No. EPA 910-R-14-001ES). Region 10, Seattle, WA.

[5] Daley, Jason. These Are America’s ten most endangered rivers. Smithsonian Magazine. April 11, 2018.

[6] Main, Douglas. The risky plan to haul minerals from a mine in the Alaskan wilderness. National Geographic. January 14, 2020.

[7] Developers say Pebble Mine won’t hurt Alaska's Bristol Bay. The facts say otherwise. World Wildlife Fund. April 30, 2020

[8] Alaska’s Bristol Bay & The Pebble Mine. Earthjustice. October 9, 2019.

[9] Heacox, Kim. Let It Be: Why We Must Save Alaska’s Pristine Tongass Forest. Yale Environment 360. December 17, 2019

[10] Friends of MiningWatch, Alaskans comment in record numbers to preserve EPA’s proposed protections for Bristol Bay. MiningWatch Canada. October 18, 2017.

[11] Bland, Alistair. The environmental disaster that is the gold industry. Smithsonian Magazine. February 14, 2014

[12] Washington Post Staff. Mapping the worldwide spread of the coronavirus. Updated May 5, 2020 at 2:19 pm

[13] CDC- COVID-19 in Racial and Ethnic Minority Groups.

[14] Moya-Smith, Simon. Coronavirus takes more than Native Americans’ lives. Killing our elderly erases our culture. NBC News. April 22, 2020.


[16] U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (2014) An Assessment of Potential Mining Impacts on Salmon Ecosystems of Bristol Bay, Alaska (Report No. EPA 910-R-14-001ES). Region 10, Seattle, WA.

[17] American Rivers. Protect Bristol Bay’s Rivers.

[18] Main, Douglas. The risky plan to ahul minerals from a mine in the Alaska wilderness. National Geographic. January 14, 2020.

[19] Heacox, Kim. Trump’s EPA wants to put a toxic mine in pristine Alaska. What could go wrong? The Guardian. April 22, 2019.

[20] Bland, Alistair. The environmental disaster that is the gold industry. Smithsonian Magazine. February 14, 2014

[21] Cherullo, Helen. The peril of mining the pristine headwaters of Alaska’s Bristol Bay. The Seattle Times. July 21, 2017.