A good day fishing in Bristol Bay. Photo submitted by Pat Vermillion
By Jenny LynesForeword by Nelli Williams, Deputy Director, Trout Unlimited’s Alaska Program
I can think of no better person to kick-off the Bristol Bay Ambassadors series than Pat Vermillion. I first met Pat several years ago, upon being invited to his lodge to talk to several of his guests about the threat of Pebble. A calm, confident fella; with an ever-ready smile…the perfect host. It took only a moment for the threat of Pebble to come into the conversation and with it a spark of intensity from Pat that made me immediately thankful to have a guy like Pat in our corner. Pat, along with his family and staff, have gone to great lengths to educate people about the issue all over the world, raise much needed money and bend over backwards to help the campaign in any way he can. Thanks, Pat, for your commitment to protecting Bristol Bay. Bristol Bay Ambassadors: The people behind the fight to save Bristol Bay
2. Home City: Livingston, MT
3. Bristol Bay Connection: I first fished Bristol Bay when I was 14 years old. I loved the wildness and its fisheries immediately. I started guiding the Bristol Bay area in 1990, and 25 years later I am still guiding in Bristol Bay every summer.
4. What do you love most about Bristol Bay? I have been lucky to fish and travel the world from Russia to Alaska, to the Arctic Circle to New Zealand. The ecosystem of Bristol Bay, is still vibrant, untouched, and uncrowded. There is no fishery anywhere in the world that can compete with Alaska. If I were to say what I love it is walking up a small creek red with spawning sockeye catching plump rainbows frequently in sight of bears, eagles, ospreys etc. You are surrounded by nature’s most intense life cycle and your guests are simply awestruck. The truth is most days so I am I.
5. What are the goals you most want to accomplish in your work? While it maybe impossible to change the world given our love for hydrocarbons, I do believe if everyone works to make a positive impact then together we might. While I am not in a position to donate as much time or money to the conservation causes I would like, I am in the rare position of being able to educate, and raise money through our Bristol Bay guests at our Alaska lodges. My goal, and our companies, has always been to do our best to preserve the wild fisheries we have identified and commercialized. That’s critical to both our business and to us as we recognize how outfitting can change the wildness of a place. We’ve been able to do that almost everywhere we operate. In Alaska, if sportfishing lodges and sportfisherman won’t work to protect Bristol Bay’s ecosystems and fisheries, in my view we shouldn’t have the privilege of doing business there. It is above all else a public resource we make a living from.
6. Did you have any key mentors and/or life-changing experiences that led you to do what you’re doing today? Too many, I suppose. Most them are just good people doing the right thing, for the right reasons. Certainly what drove it home is being a parent, I have two daughters. You cannot expect your kids to be good people if you are not the living example of what you preach. From an environmental point of view, and maybe a more selfish point of view, I love salmon and wilderness. It is the threat of it disappearing that spurs me into wanting to save it.
7. Why did you decide to take action on Pebble mine? We have destroyed salmon runs across the world. There is no reason to risk the most prolific salmon runs left in the world, for just another mine and a few itinerant jobs for out of staters. Alaska’s salmon are worth roughly half a billion a year to the state; not to mention they are the lifeblood of the Alaska’s wilderness, and subsistence fisherman. They affect everything from the trees to the insects. It’s not just bears and eagles. Take away salmon and these places literally become biological deserts. My brothers and I felt it was our duty to do everything we could to help with the Pebble Mine fight.
8. How have you and your business(es) been involved in the effort? At all of Sweetwater’s lodges we try to have a positive impact on our area, whether it is helping save Mongolian Taimen, or the wild salmon, we need to do our part. One of my goals from Sweetwater’s inception was to activate our clientele in the conservation of Bristol Bay. After many years of donating trips, selling regional books, or just asking for a donation, we were always appreciative but yet frustrated by the lack of support. We were involved with the inception of the Sportsmen’s Match so we could increase the clientele and lodge support of the anti Pebble Mine campaign. When the Sportsmen’s Match started we saw a great opportunity to raise money quickly. Our lodges and a couple key donors agreed to match what we could raise from our guests, and Trout Unlimited’s donor would match it again. This quadrupled all of our guest donations. Suddenly a $25 donation turned into a $100 for the cause. Every donation began to matter, and as a result every guest started to hear about Pebble Mine, while at the lodge, and on our emails. I do not know what the Sportsmen’s Match in total has raised to stop Pebble Mine, but I know we are very proud of having raised over $180,000 in 3 years. I think even more important is that maybe we have created a game plan for fishing lodges around the world to not only raise money, but to also educate sportsmen around the world of the threats to the environment and our fisheries. If every sport fisherman became an activist to protect where they fish, then we (as a group) have achieved something truly substantial.
9. What has been most rewarding about helping the fight against Pebble? It has been seeing team the work of everyone (commercial, subsistence, and sport fishing) involved to make achievements every year, and slowly stop this mine. I hope it will be stopped forever this year.
10. When you think of the future of Bristol Bay, what gives you a sense of hope? What makes you concerned or worried? Twenty years ago, as a fishing guide I would complain about the commercial fishermen over fishing, Fish and Game not giving us a big enough escapement, and subsistence fishermen taking all the fish. Pebble Mine has made me realize that we all want the same thing, healthy sustainable salmon runs. We are not enemies, we are all on the same team, and when we work together we can stop even a multibillion-dollar mining company that is the Pebble Partnership. It gives me hope if we can stop Pebble Mine then maybe in 100 years there will still be Wild Salmon.
About the Bristol Bay Ambassadors Series The fight to protect Bristol Bay is about more than a giant mine, or even salmon…its about people, and families and community. It’s about overcoming challenges, standing up for what is right, and believing that together we can achieve results that last far beyond our lifetime. TU’s Save Bristol Bay Campaign is excited and honored to launch a series of articles that feature a few of the individuals who are working tirelessly behind the scenes to help build a renewable resource based legacy in Bristol Bay. For every person we highlight, we know there are 100s more, doing their part because they care about Bristol Bay. We hope their leadership and contributions inspire you as they do us, and that you will join us in thanking them for their efforts to help protect Bristol Bay.
Part one: Pat Vermillion, Sweetwater Travel
Jenny Lynes is the Communications & Online Advocacy Coordinator for Trout Unlimited’s Alaska Program based in Anchorage.