Captain Sig Hansen Speaks Out About Alaska's Deadliest Match

06/20/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Captain Sig Hansen, well known for his featured status on the cable show Deadliest Catch has used his political capital, as it were, to speak out against Alaska's Deadliest Match; fish and the proposed Pebble Mine Project.

It's unusual for a "Deadliest Catch" crew member to take a hard stance in a big Alaska resource battle like Pebble. Hansen, who lives in Seattle, said he usually shies away from requests to get involved in anything political.

Because Hansen exploits crab stocks and other Alaska fisheries, he said, he can't be opposed to all resource development.

"I'm not your typical greenie," Hansen said. [snip]

He's persuaded that Pebble can't be done safely. If a development has "the potential to destroy a resource as delicate as the salmon, you've got to draw the line somewhere," he said in a recent interview.

The ad campaign will feature TV and print ads, one of which has a picture of Hansen and crew, and states:

"We don't mind crab fishing in the dead of winter in the Bering Sea, but there's no way we'd take the risk of developing Pebble Mine"

Brilliant. And it expresses what many Alaskans think. It's not uncommon to see cars and trucks driving around Anchorage with the eye-catching "No Pebble Mine" stickers on them.


For whatever reason, nature has gifted Bristol Bay with the greatest salmon fishery in the world. Pebble Mine, would sit on a fault zone, and at the confluence of two rivers that empty into these rich fishing waters. And the track record of environmental pollution from this type of mine is not good. There's a reason Hansen thinks the development of the largest gold and copper mine of its kind can't be done safely.

Meanwhile, the folks at Anglo-American, who want to develop the mine tell us over and over again that they won't develop a mine that would endanger the fishery. They tell us what great stewards they are and how they'll do it right. Last month, Sir Mark Moody-Stuart, chairperson of Anglo American made the following comments at their Annual General Meeting:

"The project has been controversial," Moody-Stuart told the AGM.

He found the project close to three streams located in the headwaters of the extensive Bristol Bay watershed, which was well known for its rich salmon fishery.

"I understand the fears and passions which have been stirred and recognise the cultural and commercial importance of the salmon, but I believe that many of these fears are based on the false assumption that this is a choice between mining and fishing.

"I am confident that the two can coexist. We have made it clear that the project will work on the basis of world-class scientific and engineering skills and that we will use inclusive and innovative stakeholder engagement.

"Our bottom line is that, if the project cannot be built in a way that avoids damage to Alaska's fisheries and wildlife or to the livelihoods of Alaskan communities, it should not be built.

"It is on that basis that we will continue to evaluate the project in compliance with the prescribed regulatory processes in Alaska. But, we will do so with a mindset that goes well beyond compliance," he promised.

Fishing boats in Dillingham, Alaska

Moody-Stewart's last gig before joining Anglo American, just so we have a little context was as the Chair of the Committee for Managing Directors of Shell Oil, where he had worked since 1966. Shell likes to portray itself as an environmentally sensitive organization, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. This is a process that has come to be known as "greenwashing," and Shell has been forced to remove certain ads in the U.K. because of it.

Next week, on May 26,the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York will hear the case of Wiwa v. Shell, despite Shell's attempts to have it thrown out of court. The trial centers around environmental devastation and human rights abuses in the Niger Delta at the hands of the company.

The environmental devastation the oil company has caused to Ogoni lands in the Niger Delta was a primary reason for the Ogoni movement against Shell. In 2006, the Niger Delta Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration Project (an independent team of scientists from Nigeria, the U.K. and the U.S.) characterized the Niger Delta as "one of the world's most severely petroleum-impacted ecosystems." Their report noted that the Delta is "one of the 10 most important wetlands and marine ecosystems in the world.Millions of people depend upon the Delta's natural resources for survival, including the poor in many other West African countries who rely on the migratory fish from the Delta." Of the nearly 27 million people living in the Niger Delta, an estimated 75 percent rely on the environment for their livelihood, often farming and fishing for market or subsistence living. Shell's operations in the Delta have led to the deep impoverishment of the Ogoni people and surrounding communities in the Delta.

Why would they do this? Because they can get away with it. What will large resource development projects do in Alaska? They will do what they can get away with. This is not to say that we should never develop Alaska's resources. But we need to pick and choose, and we need to weigh the cost. Even Sir Moody-Stuart of Anglo American says if it can't be built in a way that avoids damage to the fishery, then it shouldn't be built.

And yet, they try to tell us that we have nothing to worry about. How are they doing this? By telling us that they care. They love Alaska too. Moody-Stewart and the crew would never want to do anything to harm our fisheries, or our wildlife, or the people of the coastal communities that depend on these things. Really. They promise. It's who they are.

~~Photo credit George Osodi/AP~~
Shell in Nigeria. Photo credit George Osodi/AP

And what happens if Anglo American and their partner Northern Dynasty Minerals screw up? What happens if they have a terrible accident, or miscalculation and they contaminate this fishery? Just ask Exxon. If the Exxon Valdez oil spill is any indication, they'll make some sort of a cleanup effort, stall litigation in court for 20 years and end up paying less than half a day's profit twenty years later, after almost a quarter of the litigants are dead, and a corporation-friendly ruling comes down from a Republican appointed Supreme Court. Not much of a deterrent when you stand to make billions.

Good for Sig Hansen for taking a stand. He is right when he says you have to draw a line somewhere, even if you're not a "typical greenie."