“Pacific salmon just don’t need another threat.”
This is what James Winton, a fish virologist with the U.S. Geological Survey said recently in response to news that researchers in British Columbia found infectious salmon anemia in two wild sockeye smolts. The virus is deadly to farmed Atlantic salmon, but it is not yet known if it poses a threat to wild Pacific salmon. Although B.C. has downplayed such a threat for years, the source of the virus could be net pen fish farms on the B.C. coast.
Alaska’s management of its salmon habitat and fisheries could be undermined by lax regulations and oversight on the B.C. side, including that related to fish farms or that related to plans for a massive increase in industrial development on the B.C. side of the Northwest B.C./Southeast Alaska transboundary region.
A specific example is the proposed Tulsequah Chief Mine and its access route. Since previous owner Redfern Resources went bankrupt in May, 2009, a new company called Chieftain Metals bought the mine. Although the company says it is now focusing on a proposed road to access the mine, there is clear evidence that there will be significant river barging of toxic materials for at least a few years and most likely much longer. Given the problems experienced by Redfern during the few barge runs it did in 2007 and 2008, we should be very worried about the level of barging proposed by Chieftain.
Chieftain plans to rely on barging for mine construction for at least the next couple seasons. Since Chieftain has not obtained permits, funding or approval from the Taku River Tlingit First Nation for the road, it is likely that barging will go on for much longer. The recent Land Use Plan agreement between the Tlingit and BC government states a clear preference for barging. Chieftain CEO Victor Wyprysky recently said that some level of barging would be required throughout the life of the mine even with the proposed access road.
The Taku Task Force recently established by Sen. Dennis Egan and Reps. Cathy Muñoz and Beth Kerttula is a good way to provide accurate information about the Taku, upriver development and possible measures Alaska can take to ensure the continued productivity of the Taku. Because one thing is certain. Salmon just don’t need another threat.