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Alaskan sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka). Photo credit US Fish & Wildlife Service taken June 28, 2019. A commons image.

A Rare Salmon Type Is in the Crosshairs of Alaska’s Proposed Pebble Mine

The Koktuli River watershed, potential home of the future open-pit mine, is also home to a distinctive river-type sockeye.

By Ashley Braun / Hakai Magazine / August 27, 2020  
The sockeye salmon that come from the Koktuli River aren’t like most other fish in Alaska’s Bristol Bay, where a thriving fishery provides nearly half of the world’s wild sockeye. These salmon represent a rare class of sockeye with unique genes and a singular life strategy that sets them apart from the millions of fish that spawn in the rivers and streams that feed into Bristol Bay. Now, Koktuli River sockeye are in the spotlight because the Pebble Mine, a copper and gold mine proposed for southwest Alaska, is slated for the water in which they live.
On Monday, August 24, the latest development arrived in the long and controversial story of the Pebble Mine. The US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), the agency in charge of permitting the mine, posted a letter officially informing the project’s developer, Pebble Limited Partnership (PLP), that the open-pit mine, as proposed, would “cause unavoidable adverse impacts” to the surrounding watershed, resulting in “significant degradation.”
Bristol Bay is one of the last places in the world that consistently produces huge numbers of wild sockeye, and the fishery that relies on them contributes US $1.5-billion a year in economic activity. That consistency stems from the region’s diversity: it is home to many different salmon populations and many different kinds of salmon habitat. Each year, the contributions of each to the total catch in the bay varies considerably. And the variation creates resilience—a so-called portfolio effect—that is key to this region’s ongoing productivity, according to Daniel Schindler, a University of Washington ecologist who has studied Bristol Bay salmon for decades. But even among this diversity, Koktuli River sockeye are particularly interesting.

Complete reading this story in Hakai Magazine . . .



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