News FocusFisheries

Fishing for Gold in The Last Frontier State

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Science  15 Jan 2010:
Vol. 327, Issue 5963, pp. 263-265
DOI: 10.1126/science.327.5963.263

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Environmentalists are opposing a gargantuan mine proposed for several dozen kilometers northeast of Bristol Bay, Alaska, a prolific salmon habitat. Mining companies, on the other hand, are promising jobs and tax revenue. Joining environmentalists are their sometime foes, fisheries, whose work buoys up much of Bristol Bay's economy. As a result, many people paint Pebble Mine as pitting two moneyed industries, mines and fisheries, against each other. And although people oppose the mine for other reasons, including a desire to shield other flora and fauna, salmon earn the most sympathy. However, it's not clear how much the mine would threaten the 40 million salmon in the bay. Foes and proponents agree that the mine, as planned, would disturb less productive salmon habitats there. But scientists are amassing evidence that the unproductive habitats of today may be vital for a robust salmon population tomorrow. They have charted salmon populations over hundreds, even thousands of years and discovered that somewhat barren streams and lakes were wildly productive once, and populations in each habitat wax and wane naturally with shifts in climate. So, as a precautionary measure and to ensure that Alaska has fish to fish in the future, scientists contend that the state must preserve its variety of habitats—by killing Pebble.