Earth Science News: It’s Fish over Gold in Bristol Bay—for Now

Bristol Bay shoreline near Naknek, Alaska. (Stan Shebs, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

By Jim Brace-Thompson

In the January 2020 issue of Rock & Gem, I wrote of a debate raging around Alaska’s Bristol Bay. Would-be gold and copper miners were squared off against Alaska Native groups, environmentalists, and salmon fisheries. The miners sought rights to begin digging for what was thought to be as much as $300 to $500 billion in gold and copper reserves. On the other side of the spectrum, the area for the proposed Pebble Mine boasts one of the most productive salmon fisheries in the world, bringing in some $300 million a year. Thus, fishery proponents and others sought to protect and preserve the area. It was being described as “one of the biggest environmental battles of the early 21st century.”

That battle now seems over. Initially, mining was banned by Barack Obama. But then Donald Trump, Jr., reversed course and threw open the gates to potential development, and I said the outcome most likely would be determined in court.

Area proposed for Pebble Mine
The area proposed for Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay, Alaska. (Erin McKittrick,, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

A news brief in an August 2020 issue of the journal Science noted the issue might not even get that far. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had first issued a report that said so far as they could determine, mining activities “would not measurably affect the salmon fishery.” However, the report generated so much criticism that the Corps threw up a red flag within a month and issued a number of concerns. The CEO of the Pebble Partnership said the mining company would provide persuasive answers to address them all.

Apparently, the answers they provided were not persuasive enough. By the end of 2020, the Corps had determined that mining in this area was “contrary to the public interest.” The federal permit required to begin mining has been denied. In an ironic plot twist, the proposed Pebble Mine may have been done in by several prominent Republicans, including none other than Donald Trump, Jr., who apparently enjoys salmon fishing around Bristol Bay.

End of story? Well, perhaps the end of the battle, but not the end of the war. Per yet another news brief in the journal Science, “mine company officials said they would appeal the decision.” I’m betting that my initial prediction will be right. Watch for the outcome to be determined by a court.

Author: Jim Brace-Thompson

JimBraceThompson Jim began and oversees the AFMS Badge Program for kids, has been inducted into the National Rockhound & Lapidary Hall of Fame within their Education Category, and is the president-elect for the American Federation of Mineralogical Societies.
Contact him at

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