By Pat Hoglund
I have been to the promised land and it is beautiful. Alaska’s Bristol Bay is raw and unspoiled. It is everything you would imagine it to be. It is the last great bastion for wild salmon and trout. Take it for granted and you’re a fool. Take it for what it is, and you understand that places like it are meant to be left alone.
To really appreciate this area all you need to do is press your boot into its soft tundra, or wade into one of the countless rivers that flow through the millions of acres that make up the Bristol Bay region. When you do, you’ll instantly have a finer appreciation for how things are supposed to be. It’s like good whiskey. It’s smooth and satisfying and you know you’re drinking something special. Mix it with Coke and you may as well resign yourself to fishing for trout at the put and take pond.
If you’ve never been to Bristol Bay all you need to know is that it supports one of the last places in North America where salmon and trout are left to their own devices. There are an estimated 60 million wild salmon that return annually, and an untold number of wild trout that are the beneficiaries of those salmon. It is a fisherman’s paradise if ever there was one.
According to the ADF&G, nearly 40 percent of all sockeye harvested in the world come from here. This past season 56.5 million sockeye returned to Bristol Bay, the second highest on record. Never before had there been a day when commercial fishermen caught more than a million fish in a day; yet this year there were two days in a row when the harvest reached 1.5 million salmon per day. The escapement goals were met, with 18.8 million salmon returning to spawn. Salmon alone are responsible for $1.5 billion to the economy and over 14,000 people depend on Bristol Bay for their livelihood. That includes commercial fishermen and recreational fishermen, not to mention everyone else directly or indirectly involved (think supermarkets, restaurants, fishing lodges, etc.). To say Bristol Bay salmon are important is like saying water is scarce in the desert.
As you will read in Mike Lunde’s story on the reemergence of Pebble Mine page ?, there are forces of evil trying to reverse almost a decade of work that halted open pit mining in Bristol Bay. Mike lives in Alaska and works in fisheries. Like most Alaskans, he knows what’s at stake and he’s scared that the Pebble Mine will someday actually happen. As he points out in his piece, what we all thought was a dead issue is now alive and breathing again thanks in large part to the Trump administration’s effort to roll back environmental reforms. The mine was all but dead under President Obama’s administration, but now thanks to Scott Pruitt’s leadership we are again staring down the barrel of a loaded cannon that will blow a hole the size of a watermelon into the side of boat. As you’ll read EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt cut a deal with Pebble Limited Partnership that can undo almost a decade of work. In other words, the Pebble Mine has been granted a stay of execution. I suggest you read Mike’s story and find a way to help.
The mere mention of Trump raises the hackles on most conservation-minded people. Understandably so. No matter your view on politics, this goes beyond what you think of our current administration. This decision has lasting consequences. If it were to happen, both Trump and Pruitt will dead and gone and the trail of their carelessness acts will be felt for generations to come. There would be no turning back.
For all it offers, Bristol Bay deserves protection, our appreciation and our respect. Just like a glass of Macallan single malt. You sip and enjoy it and it would be a travesty if we allowed the EPA mix it with a soft drink.