Rick Moonen: Pebble Mine Threatens the Future of Seafood

As EPA closes public comments on protecting Alaska’s Bristol Bay salmon fishery, the noted chef and restaurateur explains why he and many others stand against the mine.


As a chef and restaurant owner, I have dedicated my life to serving delicious, high-quality foods—particularly seafood—to diners from around the world. Which is why, although it may be counterintuitive, these days I spend more of my time advocating for the future sustainability of our country’s seafood than I spend behind the stove. I have been entrenched in sustainable seafood issues since the 1990s, when the issue was barely on any diner’s radar, because I realized that our country’s fisheries and coastal ecosystems were vanishing.

Since then, my work to save seafood has taken me all over the world, including the remote waters of Bristol Bay, Alaska, where right now, our nation faces the biggest threat to our seafood supply: the proposed Pebble Mine.

The Pebble Mine, which has been a heavily debated project ever since Northern Dynasty Minerals first began exploration in the area in 2002, would be one of the world’s largest open-pit gold and copper mines—at the headwaters of the world’s most productive and valuable salmon rivers.

I have been privileged to visit Bristol Bay multiple times and tour its rural communities, meet its fishermen, learn how to smoke salmon from Native elders and catch a wild salmon at the end of my fly rod. The Bay produces over 40 percent of the world’s sockeye salmon. This summer, nearly 60 million sockeye returned—equivalent to more than a billion servings of nutritious protein. Bristol Bay is one of the purest, most sustainable sources of seafood left in the world.

rick moonen cleaning salmonI have also stood in the marshy tundra of Bristol Bay’s headwaters, where the Pebble Mine would change the landscape irrevocably. For more than a decade, the Pebble Mine has met fierce resistance from area residents, politicians from across the political spectrum, businesses, environmentalists, and seafood lovers.

In 2014, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a final scientific assessment declaring that Bristol Bay is “an area of unparalleled ecological value,” and a mine like Pebble would cause irreversible harm to the Bristol Bay watershed. Based on its findings, the EPA initiated a process that would halt its construction—or so we thought.

As a chef and sustainable fisheries advocate, I welcomed the EPA’s 2014 decision to protect this irreplaceable wild salmon fishery. But Bristol Bay’s protection was short-lived: When President Trump took office, his EPA chief, Scott Pruitt, signaled a willingness to let Pebble move forward, and has since made a backdoor settlement agreement with the Pebble Limited Partnership just after a brief meeting with the Partnership’s CEO Tom Collier.

Now, the EPA is just about to close its public comment period for the Pebble Mine, and fishermen, local residents, businesses, seafood lovers, and environmentalists alike are concerned that Pruitt’s defiance of due process leaves Bristol Bay and its salmon fishery vulnerable to irresponsible development.

At a time when Americans are being told to eat more fish and consume more sustainable forms of protein, we should be doing everything we can to protect the last remaining wild seafood we still have. That’s why I’ve joined the Businesses for Bristol Bay coalition to urge Pruitt and Trump to not reverse Clean Water Act protections in Bristol Bay.

Bristol Bay is a chance for our nation to put America first and protect our businesses, fishermen, and consumers. It’s also our chance to ensure that wild salmon remains a menu option for future generations.

Photos courtesy of Rick Moonen.

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  1. donna morang
    Tuesday, October 17th, 2017
    Pebble mine must be stopped. Save our salmon.
  2. JS
    Tuesday, October 17th, 2017
    Rick,

    I appreciate your passion and zeal, and am myself a huge fan of wild salmon. But unfortunately your facts are wrong here and you're spreading them alongside your emotions. First of all, I doubt you've stood on the land that Pebble would occupy -- it's very remote, 150ft above sea level and over 100 miles upstream from the Bay!

    Second of all, the headwaters to Bristol Bay are massive -- Pebble is in a region that accounts for <1% of the salmon spawning grounds, and the likely mine that would be proposed would use all our best science and engineering to be environmentally safe.

    Finally, this silly talk of a "secret meeting" between the company and Pruitt is just b.s. Obama's EPA already knew they over reached with their pre-emptive extra legal veto, and were losing in court . They just sat on it until the changing of the guard for optics. Pebble should go through a standard vetting process with the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers like any other mine. If they can't provide a satisfactory mine plan then they don't get a permit. But stopping them from even getting the chance to present their case was a drastic over reach and unfair.
  3. Angie Unruh
    Tuesday, October 17th, 2017
    I have signed documents calling for the protection of Bristol Bay for as long as it has been revealed as one of the most important areas for the production of clean water and great fishing! I am sad to read the above article, but I wonder if indigenous peoples, and some of the laws that are supposed to protect them, could not be included in a defense joined by multiple environmental groups? Can the US congress be called on to intervene? I am so supportive of protections to stop the mining insanity, just to line the pockets of the rich! It is going to be harder and harder to feed the populations of the world, especially with such nutrient dense food as salmon! Do we need gold and copper, or do we need food, when 40% of the children in this country are food challenged and nutritionally poor?!
  4. Alaska Natives we are
    Wednesday, October 18th, 2017
    First things first Sir. Remote Bristol Bay? Perhaps for your uninformed readers that might be a romantic vision but for us locals it’s simply BS and you know it. While we Alaskans tolerate outsiders need to save Alaska from everything you deem as destructive we don’t intfere in other states need for employment development so what gives you the right to limit ours? Because you profit from our fish you feel entitled to voice your opinion. You have employment from many sources which you use to serve your clients. Here in Iiamna and surrounding villages we need the employment the “mine” can and did bring us before outsiders with their gotta save em from themselves attitudes forced us into unemployment and caused our villages into ghost towns so you can feel better about your own polluted lives. Have you been to iliamna? Seen the desperate situation of villages such as ours and say Nondalton or Pedro Bay? I bet not.

    Remote Bristol Bay you say, considered the amount of pollutants all those boats dump into the Bay daily including human waste all in a profit driven attempt to bring you your fish?

    We locals know better than to eat salmon from the polluted bay because we see what happens there every summer.
    Look past your rose colored glasses at, oh say Naknek, South Naknek and of course the pretty sheen the outgoing tide delivers to the Bay.

    Oh and not to forget the two Hugh poo pits sitting atop the bluff overlooking the Bay ready to dump itself should we have a good shaker!

    More protections are in place for the mine than are for Bristol Bay.

    Enjoy your salmon.
  5. Donald A Larson
    Wednesday, October 18th, 2017
    Totally insane to build a mine in the headwaters of the most productive salmon habitats in the history of the world. Greed and a few jobs could never replace this sustainable food source for animals and humans alike. We are a planet on the brink due to predatory capitalism.