I stumbled on a 1970 article reporting a "Bristol Bay bonanza" out of King Salmon, Alaska. The catch of sockeye salmon through July 16 was 19.5 million, with managers projecting a total of 38 million for the season.
Fifty years later, Bristol Bay fleets had landed 25 million fish through July 12, 2020. The current 10-year average for the Bristol Bay run is just shy of 45 million.
And the fleet is still in the thick of the summer season with a decision coming on Pebble Mine from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. In 1970, processors canned all of the bay's salmon harvest. In 2020, it's the fishermen who worry about being canned, their livelihoods and subsistence fishing tossed to the wind by backroom deals between a foreign mining company and their own government.
"We've known for months that this decision was coming and that it was going to come at the worst possible time," said Alannah Hurley, executive director of the United Tribes of Bristol Bay. "And that's in no way an accident; it's par for the course."
According to a July 15 press release from Pebble Corp., the Army Corps' decision is expected to be released on Friday, July 24, while the fleet is in the thick of the summer fishing season.
"We're literally learning about these major decisions and dates through the media and from the company instead of the Army Corps," Hurley noted.
After that, the region will wait for the next steps, including calls to action from the Alaska congressional delegation and the Environmental Protection Agency. Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski has long called for the conclusion of the federal permitting process to determine the legitimacy of the project.
"We're looking to our Alaska delegation to hold the government accountable. And the EPA not only has the authority, it has the responsibility to veto at this point," Hurley said.