Commercial fishermen and tribal leaders from Southeast Alaska are in Washington, D.C, this week. They're there to press for U.S. State Department action to protect their region's copius wild salmon runs, thriving tourism industry, and cultural resources from large-scale mine projects planned for neighboring British Columbia. Southeast Alaska is home to the lush, 17-million-acres Tongass National Forest.
Five big B.C. mines are proposed for development upstream from Southeast Alaska in watersheds that produce healthy and lucrative salmon runs. The group in D.C., carrying a letter signed by 40 organizations, tribes and individuals, says safeguards are currently lacking to ensure that Canadian mine development doesn't harm one of Southeast Alaska's main economic engines -- salmon.
The mine projects are in a very bad location from a fishing standpoint. They sit in the headwaters of the Taku, Unuk and Stikine Rivers. These international rivers support important commercial, sport, and customary and traditional fisheries.
The Taku is typically Southeast Alaska’s single largest overall salmon producer. The Stikine is the second largest and the Unuk, which drains into Misty Fjords National Monunment, is one of the top four king salmon producers in the region. The Unuk's eulachon run support an important customary and traditional fishery especially important to tribal members.
Salmon need clean water and pristine habitat to thrive, the group says. Pollution from upstream mining activity could not only directly harm salmon. It could jeopardize Alaska's multi-million-dollar seafood and tourism marketing efforts.
"We cannot afford to sit quietly as these mines are being developed on an accelerated timeline. The risk of pollution in the form of acid mine drainage is very real, while the benefit of these mines to Alaska is basically zero. We are asking the Alaska delegation to see that the State Department protects our downstream interests and works with Canada to ensure this unique international salmon-producing region is not negatively impacted by industrial development,” said Brian Lynch, executive director of Petersburg Vessel Owners Association.