The Fight for Bristol Bay

Chikuminuk Lake reflects the raw wilderness of 1.6-million-acre Wood-Tikchik State Park. One of the largest state parks in the U.S., it is home to five species of salmon as well as moose, caribou, and brown bears. Photo: M. Melford

When both wild-caught and farmed US salmon comes into the conversation, it’s nearly impossible not to bring up Alaska’s Bristol Bay. The 40,000 plus acre preserve is home to more rivers, creeks, trees, ponds and fresh water that you would ever think.

Aside from a few scattered villages and the plane’s fleeting shadow, no human signs are visible. No dams, no deforestation, no highways, housing divisions, or power plants. That this place is mostly undeveloped helps explain why it is home to the world’s largest sockeye salmon runs and one of North America’s largest chinook, or king, salmon runs, to say nothing of the trophy rainbow trout and grayling and other species that flourish here.” – NG

For the people of Alaska, this salmon is more important to them than gold, literally, because that’s what’s threatening the area. A recently discovered ore that might possible hold the world’s largest deposit of gold and copper is located in the uppermost three main streams that feed to the bay. These streams also feed the salmon, – hands down, one of the most sustainable and well managed industries in this country – Alaska knows how fish and manage salmon, period.

"This is nirvana for trout and salmon fishermen," says guide Nick Jackson, holding a 27-inch rainbow caught at the mouth of Upper Talarik Creek. Photo M. Melford

Two companies, Northern Dynasty, of British Columbia, and Anglo American, a giant multinational based in England, have teamed up as the Pebble Partnership to evaluate the potential for an open-pit mine—possibly up to two miles wide and 1,700 feet deep—and an underground mine of similar scale. The prospect alarms many, especially those who depend on or value the salmon above all else.” – NG

To read the rest of this very interesting article, head on over to National Geographic Online.