By BRANDI KRUSE
What started in restaurants around Puget Sound in November 2009 as an effort to save one of the world's largest salmon fisheries has made its way to Washington, D.C.
A group of more than 200 chefs, retailers and food community leaders signed and sent a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson this week, urging the government to stop a proposed mine near the headwaters of Alaska's Bristol Bay.
"If we allow these mining projects to advance, we endanger a delicious and nutrient-rich food that millions of Americans value and demand," read the letter. "Bristol Bay presents an opportunity to permanently protect this wild food source that sustains an irreplaceable ecosystem and an invaluable marketplace."
The letter kicked-off "Save Bristol Bay Week" in the nation's capitol. Alaska natives, chefs, restaurant owners and fisherman will meet with legislatures and the EPA to seek protection for the waters.
Kevin Davis was among those who signed the letter. He was part of more than a dozen restaurant owners and chefs in Seattle who warned against the mine in 2009 and launched a campaign to help protect the bay.
"I don't think two years has changed anything," said Davis, Owner and Operator of both Blueacre Seafood and Steelhead Diner in Seattle. "The message is, quite succinctly, that putting the world's largest open-pit mine on the headwaters of Bristol Bay is unthinkable."
The Pebble Mine is a proposed copper and gold mine that would operate at a mineral deposit in the Bristol Bay region of Southwest Alaska.
"Based on preliminary plans, the proposed Pebble Mine would dig an open-pit gold and copper mine up to two miles wide and 1,700 feet deep," read a press release from Trout Unlimited, an Alaska-based non-profit that works to protect wild salmon and trout populations throughout Alaska. "This mine could dump up to 10 billion tons of perpetually toxic waste in the heart of the Bristol Bay watershed."
The Environmental Protection Agency has launched a watershed assessment to determine whether the project should move forward.
"Of course with mines there is the potential for environmental harm," said Rick Parkin, the EPA's senior management lead for the assessment. "I think that if the mine goes forward, it will go forward with protections to prevent those from happening."
Bristol Bay is one of the world's largest sockeye salmon fisheries and supports a roughly $450 million a year fishing and tourism industry.