CNN – This is the most valuable wild salmon fishery in the world. Under the Trump administration, it could become a mine.
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.
Many that escaped fishermen and bears leapt over waterfalls and used a mysterious combination of the Earth’s magnetic field and their own sensory memories to locate the exact streams where they were born — and then spawned, made gravel nests for their young, and died. “It seems like a heroic — and perhaps tragic — life cycle,” said Thomas Quinn, a professor at the University of Washington who has been studying fish in Bristol Bay for 30 years.
The salmon’s incredible migration also sustains people: Nearly half of the world’s sockeye catch comes from this one region, which is one of the last, great salmon fisheries on Earth. The returning salmon and other ecological resources create some 14,000 full- and part-time jobs, generate about $480 million annually — and support 4,000-year-old Alaska Native cultures. Now, however, Quinn and others fear this cycle could be strained if not broken.
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. Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt met on May 1 with the CEO of the Pebble Limited Partnership, a subsidiary of the mining company, CNN reported on September 22 based on interviews and government emails.
Little more than an hour later, according to internal emails, the administrator directed his staff to reverse Obama-era protections for Bristol Bay, which had been created after years of scientific review. Based on that work, the previous administration had aimed to pre-emptively veto certain mining activities in the ecologically important region.