What do we do when salmon fisheries disappear?

Posted: Thursday, April 22, 2010

I read with interest Daniel Fitzgerald's letter demanding the Alaska Governor do something to stop a mine from being developed on the Canadian side of the Taku River.

I am the great grandson of Chief Taku Jack, a highly respected leader from our past. I am also a member of the Taku River Tlingit First Nation.

As an aboriginal person, I am naturally unable to allow deliberate destruction of our environment for any price tag.

However, I also am an independent-thinking human being who doesn't give into fear, spread through campaigns of misinformation, scientists testifying for environmental groups and outright lies to the public at large.

These tactics are designed to increase the revenue-generating capacity of environmental lobby groups.

Don't get me wrong; environmentalism is a good thing. It's when it becomes a matter of "us versus them" and "defeat is not an option" that I must begin to question the true motivations of fear-mongers.

I support the principle of responsible development within our traditional territory. We have faith in the technical and scientific innovations to limit environmental degradation during mining and other industrial activities.

I often wonder why science and technology is only considered sound when it is used to fight development, but suspect when relied upon by developers to limit adverse effects. Let me explain.

The primary concern is over acid rock drainage (ARD) on the Taku River. Alaskan fishers have been crying about cleaning it up as a main issue against mine development. And they fear salmon mortality as a result of ARD.

Yet logic dictates that ARD has been and continues to take place on the Taku River and yet Alaskan salmon fishers continue to profit from harvesting as much salmon as they can.

ARD can only be generated when a rock containing sulphur mixes with water and open air. Take any one of those three elements away and you remove ARD from taking place.

The former owner of the Tulsequah Chief would have been able to clean up the problem through mining. ARD rock would have been taken from the underground mine and placed in a tailings pond. This waste rock under water would not be exposed to air. The result - no ARD.

The closure plan indicated waste rock would be put back into the mine and the shafts would be sealed with concrete - once more, no air exposure resulting in no ARD.

Instead, U.S. and Canadian NGOs and the powerful salmon fishery bankrupted the company before it could begin operations. This meant no plan to clean up the existing ARD problem of which Fitzgerald complains.

Fitzgerald kindly indicates commercial and recreational fisheries are worth $8 million annually.

My question is this: What do we do when the West Coast salmon fishery disappears or collapses like the East Coast cod fishery?

I ask this question because the evidence is already there that salmon are disappearing, and despite alarms being raised, the salmon industry continues to harvest.

And one more point: The $8 million annualy is mostly to the benefit of the Alaskan side of the Taku River, not to British Columbia and Canada.

• Gordon Loverin (Yanna Tan) is a member of the Wolf Clan and Taku River Tlingit First Nation.

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