One Pebble, Epic Ripples: Why You Need to Help Save Bristol Bay

08/31/2011 03:23 pm ET | Updated Oct 31, 2011
  • Ashley Koff Dietitian, qualitarian, author, spokesperson

Will history repeat itself in Bristol Bay, Alaska, while we watch more of our natural resources destroyed at the hands (and financial gain) of a foreign company? You can help decide the fate of Bristol Bay's salmon, its water, OUR world. As a consumer and as a voter, your actions (or inactions) can play an important role in the future of our last great wild salmon fishery.

It is an all too familiar story: a foreign corporation seeks to extract nonrenewable resources in a pristine, productive ecosystem. The story usually ends with a degraded ecosystem, lost species, lost habitat, and a very expensive cleanup bill. If we let it, this could be the future of Bristol Bay, where Anglo American and Northern Dynasty are proposing to develop one of the largest open-pit mines in the world -- the Pebble Mine -- at the headwaters of our planet's most productive wild salmon habitat. Around 40 million wild salmon return each summer to Bristol Bay, employing more than over 12,000 people in commercial fishing, sport fishing and related businesses. Native villages throughout the Bristol Bay watershed have lived off the local flora and fauna for thousands of years, continuing the timeless traditions of their elders.

Knowing what we know about the mining industry's track record and the sensitivity of wild salmon, are we truly willing to go down this path and repeat history? Can we honestly accept the Pebble Partnership's promises to "do it right," and somehow offset the thousands of jobs lost if the fishery is harmed and collapses? Can we trust them to manage the billions of tons of toxic waste "in perpetuity?"

After a trip to Bristol Bay in June with four colleagues who are leaders in food, health and sustainability, we all say "No," to these questions. We cannot accept these risks if the Pebble Mine moves forward. All you need to do is fly over the proposed Pebble Mine site to appreciate how unrealistic it is to think that you can have both in Bristol Bay: sustainable wild salmon and hard-rock mining. From the point of view of a chef, author, educator, restaurateur, and dietitian, here's what Bristol Bay taught us:

The Chef: Rick Moonen
"Bristol Bay is a shining example of how nature can be perfect if left alone. Every aspect of this area depends on the nutrition that swims upstream every season and without it will perish. History proves that a mine like Pebble Mine will disrupt this fragile ecosystem and will destroy one of the last utopias of the world. Greed is no excuse to destroy our planet... stop it now!"
Chef/Owner, RM Seafood

The Author: Paul Greenberg
"Bristol Bay is the ground zero of the fight to save our last wild food. Well managed, productive and unpolluted, it should be cherished as a resource for our hearts, minds, and above all, our stomachs."
New York Times Best-selling Author
Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food

The Educator: Kathleen Frith
"Everything in Alaska seemed huge to me -- both the enormity of Nature and the risks of the proposed Pebble Mine. I experienced the largest swath of untouched, pristine wilderness I had ever witnessed, learned just how fundamental salmon is to the entire ecosystem and how abundant their numbers have remained, and struggled to comprehend the enormity of the mine proposal. The devastation -- to our health, to our land, and to our long-term economy -- that would accompany the mine is equally massive."
Managing Director, Center for Health and the Global Environment
Harvard Medical School

The Restaurateur: Daniel Abrams
"Being from New York City, we're so far removed from our food source. Visiting
Bristol Bay illustrated just how interconnected everything is. The stream
from one area meets the river in another and so on. By visiting the site of
the proposed mine, it brought into sharp focus just how devastating the
environmental damage would be to the waterways, the salmon and the
livelihoods of all the hard working people who make Bristol Bay so special."
Owner, The Mermaid Inn

The Dietitian: Ashley Koff, RD
Today, we can be proactive in defense of nature and to do so with the knowledge that our individual health is inextricably linked to the health of our environment. We have the opportunity to do what we didn't do in the past - force the government to require long-term research on chemicals or genetically modified seeds before they are allowed into our farming systems. When it comes to toxins in our food and GMOs, we can only imagine what today could be like if we had intervened sooner. Today, we can only try to reverse the damage, a process that contributes to escalating health care costs in the face of limited resources, all with the awareness of no matter how hard we work, we won't ever be able to remove these toxins and genetically engineered seeds from our earth and bodies -- our world is irrevocably changed.

Except, that is, in Bristol Bay, Alaska where 'wild' means untouched, protected, and, as I learned on my recent trip, impeccably well-managed. So it seems insane to me that Alaskans would consider allowing foreigners to come in, create a large scale sulfur mine (it has to be so massive in order to get enough copper because the sulfur content is much larger) in their backyard. And then I learned that people who live in Bristol Bay don't want it either. At first, the mine jobs were a bit of a lure, but when they learned the trade-off is lost salmon, polluted waters, and lost jobs for the future, they said, "wrong mine, wrong place." I love wild salmon. I love its nutritional value, and I love that for every salmon caught, thousands are being protected so that we protect the future of salmon, not just for human consumption, but for their role as nutrients through the entire Bristol Bay ecosystem. That will all change if any more destruction of this area is allowed. We need to stop the Pebble Mine project so that we can focus on cleaning up the messes we've already made in the hope that the land and sea will be left better for the future. You can learn more at