Potential Drilling, Mining Threaten Wild Salmon in Western Alaska

Bristol Bay Fishery, Alaska. Photo courtesy of Alaska Coalition.

Bristol Bay, the largest wild salmon fishery in the world, is at risk from industry proposals to drill for oil offshore, and to develop the world’s largest open pit gold and copper mine onshore.

The Wilderness Society is fighting these dual threats and working to protect this southwestern Alaska region renowned for its biological productivity and cultural history.

Home to 40 percent of U.S. fish catch

The Bristol Bay region is one of the world's most productive marine ecosystems. The region supports the world's largest wild run of sockeye salmon, nearly $500 million a year in commercial fishing revenues, and more than 40 percent of the total U.S. fish catch. People living in this region rely heavily on salmon as a mainstay of their diet. Cultural traditions still revolve around the seasons and natural systems.

In 2006, the Bush Administration announced its plans to lift a presidential moratorium on offshore oil and gas drilling in Bristol Bay (the moratorium was put in place by Bush’s father, George H. W. Bush, in the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez oil spill and Clinton extended those protections).

At the same time, this valuable salmon fishery is also facing extreme pressure from a multi-national mining corporation, which hopes to develop the world’s largest open-pit gold and copper mine upstream.

In addition to the salmon, huge numbers of waterfowl and shorebirds use the region's coastal wetlands. Brown bears ply the rivers and shorelines. And, humpback, fin, gray and minke whales swim among walrus, seal and otter in abundant numbers.

The so-called Pebble Mine is expected to:

  • cover some 15 square miles
  • produce 2.5 billion tons of toxic waste over its lifetime
  • threaten thousands of streams where salmon spawn

The Wilderness Society is working closely with conservation partners such as Trout Unlimited and the World Wildlife Fund as well as with native people and other local residents whose lives would be affected by both on- and off-shore development threats, to ensure that these resources remain for generations to come.

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