Southeast Alaska commercial fishermen are in Washington DC this week seeking help from the federal government to protect their region’s fisheries and tourism industries from potential water pollution from large-scale Canadian mines.
Representatives of the Alaska Trollers Association, Petersburg Vessel Owners Association and the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska were to meet with Alaska’s congressional delegation and the State Department.
Their concern, they said, is that at least five large-scale mines are planned for northwest British Columbia in watersheds draining into Southeast Alaska rivers.
Dale Kelley, executive director of Alaska Trollers Association, notes that the seafood industry is the largest private employer in Alaska, and that in Southeast Alaska alone, more than 5,000 commercial fishing families provide jobs and revenue for the state and dozens of small towns not connected to the road system.
“Tourism is also an important economic driver and sport fishing and subsistence are crucial for our sustenance and quality of life,” Kelley said.
Kelley and other delegates, including Brian Lynch, executive director of Petersburg Vessel Owners Association, are concerned over the rapid pace of Canadian mining development in transboundary watersheds, including the Taku, Stikine and Unuk—prized salmon-producing rivers. They want guarantees that Alaska’s water and fish will not be harmed by British Columbia’s mining development ventures.
The rivers of concern are the region’s top producers of wild salmon and eulachon, Lynch said. “The risk of pollution in the form of acid mine drainage is very real, while the benefit of these mines to Alaska is basically zero.”
The group wants Alaska’s congressional delegation to see that the State Department protects Alaska’s downstream interests “and works with Canada to ensure this unique international salmon-producing region is not negatively impacted by industrial development,” Lynch said.