The Battle Over Bristol Bay's Salmon

Gold or sockeye salmon? In Alaska, the decision to mine pits one mother lode against another.

Sarah Palin recently headed up to Bristol Bay for an episode of Sarah Palin's Alaska. While the show makes the place to be some kind of arctic wonderland, beyond the sheen, another issue looms: the Last Frontier could be the final frontier for sockeye salmon.

The bay is the proposed site of Pebble Mine, one of the world’s largest copper and gold mines, and as Edwin Dobb writes in this month's National Geographic, the mine could jeopardize one of the world's most biologically productive salmon habitats. And beyond just saving the fishery, he says:

[A]ny plan for preserving the Bristol Bay ecosystem must also ensure a viable economy for the hard-pressed residents of the watershed: jobs and small-business opportunities in the recreation and tourism industry, such as guiding and outfitting, and mechanisms for locals to buy back some of the hundreds of commercial fishing permits now owned by outsiders. Incentives for the direct marketing of salmon would help, by allowing the people who catch the fish to bypass the big processing plants and sell straight to consumers, thereby receiving a larger share of the profits.

Photograph by Michael Melford viaNational Geographic.