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Proposed mining district may pose a threat to a major salmon fishery

Published On: 11/30/2010

On December 3, 2010 scientists will discuss a proposed mining district in Alaska's Bristol Bay that may pose a threat to one of the world's largest salmon fisheries.

Alaska's Bristol Bay Watershed is a major commercial and sport fishery, producing one third of the global supply of wild sockeye salmon. This fishery generates $360 million annually and supports 12,500 jobs. The State of Alaska and several mining companies have proposed establishment of a mining district spanning several hundred square miles in the headwaters of the Kvichack and Nushagak/Mulchatna Rivers, which drain to Bristol Bay. This area is prime habitat for wolf and bear, in addition to salmon and trout species. It also contains several rivers suitable for 'wild and scenic' status, according to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

The proposed mining district would include Pebble Mine. At over two miles (3 km) wide and 2,000 feet (600 m) deep, Pebble Mine would be North America's largest open pit copper, gold, and molybdenum mine. Proponents argue that these metals are the raw materials for many products used by humans on a daily basis. The mine also is expected to support 2000 jobs during construction and 1000 jobs during its 30 to 60 year lifespan. Critics point out that hard rock and open pit mining can release arsenic, sulfuric acid, cyanide, and heavy metals that are lethal to fish and can cause neurological damage in humans.

On December 3, 2010, the Keystone Center for Science and Public Policy will hold a day-long event (8 AM to 5:30 PM, AKST) at the University of Alaska in Anchorage to discuss the proposed Pebble Mine. Click here to register and to watch a live webcast of this event.

Sources for the figures quoted in this article are E & E Land Letter (July 23, 2009) and the Pebble Mine wikipedia page.

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