Written by Jen Finn
October 2, 2013
Too much of some good things
By Wesley Loy
Norman Van Vactor manages the weathered Peter Pan salmon cannery at Dillingham, Alaska, and he's seen plenty of drama in his 31 seasons in Bristol Bay: run failures, fishermen's strikes, the economic devastation of fish farming, not to mention a fire that came within a whisker of devouring his century-old plant last year.
The famed Bristol Bay fishery has survived all that upheaval and lots more, and gillnetters and packers continue to feast annually on the world's mother lode of prime sockeye.
Now there are new worries, including the prospect of a colossal open-pit copper and gold mine in the bay's headwaters. It's a project Van Vactor prays the regulators and the citizenry of Alaska will reject as a shortsighted threat to the bay's sustainable salmon bounty.
"You literally could not pick a worse place for a mine," he says. "People are not going to buy into a 20-year bonanza and run the risk of damaging one of nature's crown jewels."
The mine, known as Pebble, isn't the only industrial newcomer that might set up shop at the bay. Federal officials are giving serious consideration to holding an offshore oil and gas lease sale at the bay's broad mouth, some 400 miles southwest of the Pebble site. It's a once-taboo idea that's come nearly full circle over the past four years.
Both Pebble and offshore drilling are controversial in Alaska. That's nothing new. The classic conflict in this far-flung state has always been, and probably always will be, whether to develop or conserve the land.
You might wonder how anyone in the fishing fraternity could countenance, on opposite ends of so special a resource as Bristol Bay, a giant mine and offshore drilling platforms. But some do.
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