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How a proposed mine in Bristol Bay could impact fishing jobs and salmon

Coho salmon. (AP)

The contentious debate over the proposed mine in Alaska’s Bristol Bay could have ramifications for the Puget Sound salmon and orca population, as well as fishing industry jobs. University of Washington professor Daniel Schindler joined the Candy, Mike and Todd to discuss why people should be concerned with what’s happening up north.

“Bristol Bay is one of the major ecosystems producing wild salmon that’s really left in North America and Pebble Mine is a proposed mine that would be in the headwaters of two rivers that support salmon in this region,” he said, speaking from Alaska. “There’s broad scale concern because of potential environmental damage that this mine could do.”

The proposed copper and gold mine at the site was first floated in the late 1980s, and has long been a contentious issue among conservationists and supporters of the development. At the moment, public comments are closed and a decision is expected on the permit in 2020, reports High Country News.

“It’s certainly notable that the people opposing the mine range from people who live directly downstream of what would become a tailings pond to people who live on the coast and rely on fisheries for subsistence needs and for commercial needs, to fishers who live in the Pacific Northwest and come up here for the season, to people who fish for a hobby and come up here to Alaska to catch fish for sport, to including people who’ve never been to Bristol Bay,” Schindler said.

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“It doesn’t take a lot of reading and a lot of listening to people to realize how special this landscape is and realize what’s at risk.”

Schindler says the concern is with the sulfur that’s left behind and produces what’s known as acid mine drainage (a highly acidic cocktail of sulfuric acid and residual metals), which would end up polluting adjacent rivers where salmon are spawned and reared.

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“Mines will pollute the habitat. But of course, a mine of this size also requires an enormous amount of infrastructure in the form of roads and ferry terminals and the pipeline and electrical transmission lines. And there’s an additional set of concerns to the habitat that the construction of this infrastructure would pose.”

Fishing jobs versus mining jobs

Furthermore, while issues such as these tend to come down to arguments between jobs and the environment, this one appears to be centered around jobs in fishing versus jobs in mining.

“It’s important to realize that currently the commercial fishery supports somewhere on the order of about 14,000 jobs. Many of those jobs are seasonal. Some of them are permanent jobs, and many of them originate in the Pacific Northwest, actually,” he said. “And then of course the mine will have a few hundred jobs probably for about 25 years. In a perfect world, this mine could be developed and there would be no impact to the environment and both could co-exist.”

“But the question is whether development of this mine actually poses risks to the fishing industries that operate here and have operated here for for well over 100 years.”

Listen to The Candy, Mike, and Todd Show weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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