Salmon in the Crosshairs

Sarah clamming in Rhode Island

By Sarah Schumann
Commercial fisherwoman
Guest Blogger
For the past five years, I have
been part of a wondrous migration that takes place each summer in Bristol Bay,
Alaska. It is a rush of movement that takes place by sea, by land, and by air;
a mad dash triggered by a swarming of fish and followed by the predators that
chase them – including the fishermen and cannery workers who make their way
here from neighboring villages and around the globe to harvest, package, and
ship this nourishing fish to dinner plates worldwide.
My own role in that mass
migration takes me from my year-round home of Rhode Island to a salmon cannery
on the edge of the Nushagak River, which drains into Bristol Bay. Once there, I
am in charge of steam-cooking the sealed cans of salmon as they come off the
processing line.  I am one of the
tens of thousands of people dependent on the summer salmon run for my
year-round economic wellbeing. It is because of my humble appreciation for that
resource that sustains so many, and in solidarity with the residents and
commercial fishermen of the Bristol Bay region, that I ask all members of the
New England fishing community to take a stand against the proposed Pebble Mine.
The moon over Nushagak River, the last thing Sarah sees every night
while working at the cannery in Alaska.
Since the early 2000s, the Pebble
Limited Partnership (a joint venture of Northern Dynasty Minerals and
Anglo-American) has planned to construct a copper, gold, and molybdenum mine
near Lake Iliamna, at the headwaters of the Nushagak and Kvichak Rivers. These
waters, which flow into Bristol Bay, are prime spawning grounds for salmon, and
Lake Iliamna is known as the largest incubator of salmon in the world. When the
Pebble Mine is formally proposed and evaluated, it will benefit from the
support of many powerful interests. This is why many Bristol Bay communities
and salmon fishermen are giving their all to the struggle to defeat the mine.
The environmental risks posed by
such a mine are numerous. If constructed, the mine itself would remove 87 miles
of salmon streams and thousands of acres of wetlands.  In addition, mining activities would produce acidic and
metals-laden waters, which would degrade water quality downstream if released
into the environment. Waste rock piles and tailings dams would require
management in perpetuity, long after the hundred-year lifespan of the mine,
lest they leach or spill contaminated residues into the watershed.
Pebble Mine would be the largest
gold mine and the fifth largest copper mine in the world. The mining companies
and their allies in government see greater value in short-term profits made by
extracting minerals from the ground than in the long-term value that is already
being provided by one of the world’s last remaining healthy salmon-based
ecosystems – an ecosystem that supports 12,000 commercial fishermen and is the
lifeblood of two Native Alaskan communities — the Yup’ik and Dena’ina, two of
the last intact salmon-based cultures in the world. For the commercial and
subsistence fishers of Bristol Bay, it would be unthinkable to put this
miraculous and life-sustaining renewable resource at risk.
For more information or to take
action online, visit the website of the Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay,
an advocacy group founded expressly to protect fishing livelihoods from the
Pebble Mine:
This coming Wednesday, I will be hosting a screening of the documentary Red Gold at the Hope Artiste Village
(1005 Main St.) in Pawtucket, RI, at 7:30 PM. Please join me!