ANCHORAGE - Seattle diners who order the salmon will get their meal with a message next week.
Chefs at more than a dozen restaurants are cooking up fish dishes that come with a special side: a warning that the creature's future could be threatened by a giant gold and copper mine proposed for Bristol Bay in southwest Alaska, home to the world's largest sockeye salmon runs.
Kevin Davis, co-owner of the Steelhead Diner, is an avid catch-and-release fly fisherman who recently returned from Washington, D.C., where he lobbied for permanent protection of Bristol Bay.
"Wild seafood is a rare and special commodity," Davis said Thursday. "When I heard the news about the Pebble Mine and how it could potentially affect what is probably the world's remaining strongholds of salmon, I became very concerned."
To encourage his customers to help in the cause, the Steelhead Diner will feature three dishes using Alaska salmon: Tomato-Crusted Bristol Bay Sockeye Salmon, Meyer Lemon-Crusted Bristol Bay Sockeye Salmon and Hot-Smoked Bristol Bay Sockeye Salmon Cheesecake.
Trout Unlimited is strongly opposed to the mine because of its proposed location near the headwaters of two rivers that produce large runs of sockeye and king salmon.
Conservationists fear that toxic mine wastes could drain into the waters of the region's world-class trout and salmon streams and ultimately into Bristol Bay, which Trout Unlimited says provides nearly half of the world's wild sockeye salmon to consumers.
"We are trying to get salmon consumers, chefs and restaurants and anybody who buys and appreciates wild salmon on their plates to think about where the salmon comes from, in this case Bristol Bay," said Elizabeth Dubovsky, Trout Unlimited's WhyWild program director. "This is one of the last pristine ecosystems we have left."
She said participating restaurants have been sent a range of materials, including salmon recipe cards for diners and table displays with information about Bristol Bay and the Pebble mine.
John Shively, CEO of the Pebble Partnership that is promoting the mine, said the chefs don't understand the Pebble project and don't appreciate what it could do for the people of the region.
"I don't think that chefs in Seattle from high-priced restaurants have any idea of how hard it is for people in rural Alaska to live there," he said. "Therefore, I find it a little bit disingenuous that they would eliminate this potential economic opportunity without even understanding what the project is like."
Chef Seth Caswell, owner of Emmer & Rye, said one of his reasons for joining the Savor Bristol Bay campaign - which starts Sunday - is concern for Alaska Natives who rely on Bristol Bay salmon for food.
"A whole culture could be wiped away," he said.
Caswell said his menu likely will feature Bristol Bay salmon with a garnish of locally grown wild grains and mushrooms. He's also considering raw fish dishes, perhaps salmon thinly sliced and cured in lemon, salt and pepper.
"It is more a flavor, almost like getting a whiff of the sea," he said.
Caswell said he hopes the dishes will inspire his patrons to buy and prepare Bristol Bay salmon for themselves.
"The power of purchasing sends a message," he said.
Savor Bristol Bay salmon week coincides with Pacific Marine Expo 2009, the largest commercial marine trade show on the West Coast, and Trout Unlimited has an exhibit at the show.
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