WASHINGTON — Federal approval for an open-pit copper and gold mine near Alaska’s Bristol Bay should weigh how it might endanger the $1.5 billion commercial salmon fishing industry that flows from the pristine watershed 150 miles southwest of Anchorage.
That was the message sent Monday by five West Coast Senate Democrats, including Washington’s Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, to President Obama about the huge Pebble Mine project. The lawmakers — joined by Oregon’s Jeff Merkley and California’s Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer — signed a letter to the administration urging it to protect thousands of jobs along the coast that depend on the fish.
Bristol Bay is home to the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery. But the region also contains large mineral deposits, which a private consortium hopes to tap. The Environmental Protection Agency is finishing a draft assessment about Pebble Mine’s potential impact on fisheries and wildlife.
The letter cites a report from the University of Alaska’s Institute of Social and Economic Research estimating that Bristol Bay salmon fishing and processing is worth $674 million to the three states, responsible for 12,000 seasonal jobs as well as 6,000 full-time jobs.
Pebble Mine’s backers say the project could generate $1 billion in annual economic activity. But the proposal has been controversial among Bristol Bay residents, and faces opposition from Native American groups.