Bristol Bay, Alaska is perhaps the world’s largest and most sustainable wild salmon fishery. For centuries, the watershed’s plentiful stocks have supported the region’s native population, and today its natural resources sustain a commercial fishing industry and draw sport fishermen from around the world. But since the 80s, the area has been under exploration for valuable minerals and the recent findings have put the salmon in jeopardy; Anglo American and Northern Dynasty Minerals have recently proposed a massive, open-pit mine in close proximity to this sensitive habitat and community. If their mine is approved, it would leach untold amounts of toxic chemicals into the waterways that give home to the salmon. Alaska has never turned down such a large mine application.
The proposal for the mine is a contentious one, and the lines have been drawn within the town: while many of the locals view the mine as a threat to their livelihoods and to the health of their home, there is another group of residents who see mining as the future of their community if the fragile fishing industry collapses. Tradition and environmental concern are pitted against the economic survival of a region and a $300 billion mining prospect. But new alliances have also formed from the conflict – natives, commercial salmon fisherman, and sport anglers have joined forces to voice their opposition to the project. By their estimation, the mine is a one-time gain, whose major benefits would pass over the locals, while indelibly harming a beautiful, as well as culturally and economically-significant watershed.
As former Alaska Governor Jay Hammond has said,
I couldn’t imagine a worse location for a mine of this type, unless it was in my kitchen.
Given the incredible importance of salmon to Alaskan culture and foodways, his point is almost moot.
Last summer, filmmakers Ben Knight and Travis Rummel spent time with both sides of the mine proposal and documented their experiences on the waters and with the people of Bristol Bay. Their film, Red Gold, is a powerfully moving look at an endangered ecosystem and the people fighting to protect it. The film is making the festival circuit and is already the winner of the People’s Choice and Festival Director’s Awards at the Telluride MountainFilm Festival, as well as an Audience Choice Award from the Banff Mountain Film Festival. You can catch it in Portland on April 16 at 6:30 pm, at the Bagdad Theater.
To help educate people about the controversy, Trout Unlimited has put together the Save Bristol Bay website as a resource for answers and activism about stopping the Pebble Mine. Apart from all of the details and background the site provides, they’ve also compiled a list of five ways to support their efforts. Check it out to donate or get involved.
Trout Unlimited also offers an excellent study guide (PDF), which answers questions about the development proposal.
For more info on the film and its creators, you can follow some of the behind-the-scenes stories of making the film on Felt Soul Media’s blog.
Filmmakers Ben and Travis were also interviewed by This Is Fly – an incredibly slick, online, fly-fishing magazine – in which the pair talked about the relative fame that comes from making a fishing documentary.
Thanks for sharing