Commercial fish harvesters say meetings between Alaskan and British Columbia officials are a productive first step in resolving concerns over mining near transboundary rivers critical to wild salmon.
“While cross-border cooperation is essential for protecting fisheries, it involves more than provincial and state agreements regarding the sharing of data and perspectives,” said Dale Kelley, executive director of the Alaska Trollers Association. “Fishermen want commitments regarding the watersheds that impact our fisheries to be backed up by the full force of the US Government and Crown because that offers the greatest change that they will be binding and upheld over time.”
Kelley and the environmental groups Salmon Beyond Borders and Rivers Without Borders say that British Columbia’s aggressive program of mine development in the transboundary region bordering on Southeast Alaska includes projects that threaten clean water, wild salmon, tourism, indigenous communities and Alaska’s unique way of life.
Thousands of Alaskans have asked that the International Joint Commission, created under the Boundary Waters Treaty, examine potential risks to Alaska posed by mining development in British Columbia.
Alaska Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott invited BC Minister of Energy and Mines William Bennett to come to Southeast Alaska in late August to meet with people whose lifestyle depends on healthy salmon production in those rivers flowing from Canada into Southeast Alaska.
Both sides, said Mallott, are looking to build on existing collaboration whereby members of Alaska’s large mine review team participate in the environmental assessment and permitting processes relating to the province’s authorization of development of transboundary mines.
Mallott said they would move forward on several fronts, collaborating on a draft memorandum of understanding, and also exploring federal engagement from Ottawa and the US State Department.
Chris Zimmer of Rivers Without Borders said he felt progress had been made in demonstrating Alaskans’ concerns, but that his organization stands firm for the need of an international solution under the Boundary Waters Treaty.