Coalition brings fight for fish to Washington

ANCHORAGE — A coalition trying to stop development of a huge copper and gold mine in Alaska brought its fight to the nation’s capital this week in an effort to protect the world’s largest wild sockeye salmon fishery.

The group, which consists of Alaska Natives, commercial fishermen, chefs, jewelers, sportsmen and others, is opposed to developing the Pebble Mine, a world-class copper and gold deposit that sits near the headwaters of Bristol Bay and one of the world’s last and greatest wild salmon fisheries.

“We have to fight for the preservation of Bristol Bay,” said Paul Greenberg, author of “Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food,” in a teleconference Thursday from Washington, D.C. “Wild Alaska Bristol Bay sockeye is simply the purest, best fish protein on earth.”

The group has a week’s worth of activities planned, including delivering a letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from 200 chefs and restaurant owners around the country. Wild salmon from Bristol Bay also is being served at more than 20 restaurants and the coalition is visiting congressional offices, including those for Alaska, Oregon, Washington and California, in hopes of building support to stop Pebble.

John Shively, chief executive of Pebble Limited Partnership promoting the project, said the coalition is trying to stop the mine even though plans for Pebble are not finalized and permitting has been put off until the end of 2012 in an effort to come up with “a project that is right.”

“We don’t have a project for them to debate. They don’t want to wait and have that debate,” he said.

Mining companies Anglo American PLC and Northern Dynasty Minerals are behind Pebble, which could turn out to be the largest mine of its kind in the world. The EPA recently announced plans to study how Pebble could affect the watershed and the fishery.

Cynthia Carroll of London-based Anglo American said earlier this month that Pebble can be developed without polluting the Bristol Bay watershed. She pointed to a copper mine near British Columbia’s Fraser River that last year saw record salmon runs.

But former state Senate President Rick Halford said Pebble is the wrong mine in the wrong place. The deposit is huge compared to others and the sulfur content in the ore body is alarming, he said.

“This is a very, very dangerous kind of mine,” Halford said.

He pointed out that about 1,200 exploratory bore holes already have been drilled at the mine site.

“Even the exploration is dangerous to this precious region,” Halford said.

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