Group pushes for protection of Alaska salmon

Trout Unlimited encourages buyers to 'vote with your fork for Bristol Bay'

Posted: Thursday, July 30, 2009

On a recent Saturday at a popular farmers' market in South Anchorage, shoppers lined up a dozen deep at the Arctic Choice fresh seafood booth. Next door, two chefs from Sacks Cafe grilled up samples of wild Alaska salmon behind Trout Unlimited's WhyWild campaign booth to promote wild Bristol Bay salmon.

"We want to market Bristol Bay salmon so it is as well-known as Copper River salmon," said Paula Dobbyn," spokeswoman for TU in Alaska.

Trout Unlimited's push to "vote with your fork for Bristol Bay" is encouraging consumers to be aware of the threat to the bay's salmon fishery - the world's largest. The fish group says it's a question of an extractive resource versus a renewable resource.

Trout Unlimited is against the proposed Pebble mine at the headwaters of the bay that it says rears approximately 70 million salmon a year and provides 4,000 fisheries-related jobs in an industry valued at $288 million a year.

On July 6, Alaska Fish and Game estimates the Bristol Bay fishery had a harvest of more than 22.5 million on one day.

The organization's mission is to "conserve, protect and restore North America's coldwater fisheries and their watersheds." Trout Unlimited is a 50-year-old, national nonprofit conservation organization with about 140,000 members. It has had a presence in Alaska for four years.

For Trout Unlimited, Pebble mine is a big concern.

It fears that toxic mine wastes could drain into the waters of the region's world-class trout and salmon streams and ultimately into Bristol Bay, that Trout Unlimited says provides 40 percent of the world's wild sockeye salmon to consumers.

On its Web site, the Pebble Partnership defends itself against such charges, stating: "Various modern mine design features and operational controls utilized in mine operation, in addition to requirements for strict quality assurance & control processes dictated by the permitting process, provide multiple levels of refinement and review to ensure that water resources are protected. If the Pebble Partnership cannot design the mine in a manner that would ensure all discharges to the environment meet water quality standards, permits will not be granted."

Pebble is estimated to contain 72 billion pounds of copper, 94 million ounces of gold and 4.8 billion pounds of molybdenum.

Trout Unlimited is targeting the public in the Pacific Northwest, where salmon runs have been stressed in the past few years.

"This is sort of a test run for us," said Tim Bristol, Alaska program director of WhyWild with Trout Unlimited, at the market event. "With our partnership with Arctic Choice and Sacks Cafe, we hope to engage other chefs and seafood companies to help us promote Bristol Bay salmon."

Arctic Choice is an Anchorage-based company that sells exclusively Alaska seafood at the South Anchorage Saturday market.

In June, for the third year in a row, Trout Unlimited co-sponsored a two-day wild salmon tasting event with nine New Seasons Markets in Portland, Ore.

Throughout the summer in Seattle, Trout Unlimited and the Seattle Chefs' Collaborative have called on its members to feature Bristol Bay salmon on their menus.

"Seafood lovers need to know what's happening up in Bristol Bay. The salmon that come from this region are superb not only in terms of taste, but nutritious as well. With wild salmon disappearing around the globe, we need to protect the Bristol Bay resource and one of the best ways to do that is through consumer education," said Seth Caswell, president of the collaborative, in a Trout Unlimited press release. "Chefs can have a powerful influence on consumers and play not only the role of provider, but educator as well."

Pacific Northwest chefs are particularly concerned about salmon as the Pacific Northwest has seen low salmon returns the last several years.

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