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2012 EPA Research Progress Report

Bristol Bay, Alaska: Assessing Potential Mining Impacts on Salmon Ecosystems

Bristol Bay is located at the northeastern end of the Alaskan peninsula.

Bristol Bay Watershed in southwestern Alaska supports the largest sockeye salmon fishery in the world, is home to 25 federally recognized tribal governments, and contains large mineral resources. The potential for large-scale mining activities in the watershed has raised concerns about the impact of mining on the sustainability of Bristol Bay’s world-class fisheries and the future of some of the Alaskan native tribes in the watershed that have maintained a salmon-based culture and subsistence-based lifestyle for at least 4,000 years.

This pristine and unique watershed supports all five species of Pacific salmon and half of the world’s sockeye salmon population. The fishery industry (e.g., commercial, recreational, subsistence) is valued at more than $365 million per year, with hunting and sight-seeing bringing the total value to almost $500 million per year. The Bristol Bay Watershed also holds large deposits of valuable minerals. One deposit—the Pebble Deposit—if fully developed, has the potential of becoming one of the largest mines of its type in the world.

EPA received petitions from nine federally recognized tribes and other stakeholders expressing concern that the salmon fishery would be at risk from large-scale mining and asking that EPA take action to protect salmon populations affected by the Bay’s watershed. Other tribes and stakeholders who support development in the Bristol Bay Watershed requested EPA take no action until a permitting process begins.

In response to these petitions, EPA is conducting an assessment of the Bristol Bay Watershed to better understand how future large-scale mining may affect the salmon fishery. EPA will use the results of this assessment to evaluate options for assuring that the resources of Bristol Bay are protected effectively.

EPA’s draft report, An Assessment of Potential Mining Impacts on Salmon Ecosystems of Bristol Bay, Alaska (PDF) (339 pp, 14Mb), was released in May 2012; it then underwent a 60-day public comment period and external peer review panel. The final report is expected to be released in 2013.

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