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Jewelers, Fishermen and Residents Join Boycott of Bristol Bay Gold Mine

Feb 9, 2011 11:31 AM   By Denise Romano
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RAPAPORT... Commercial fishermen, Alaska Natives and now 54 leading jewelers have signed a pledge to boycott any gold that comes from the proposed Pebble Mine at the headwaters of Bristol Bay in southwestern Alaska. The mine, a project of Anglo American and Northern Dynasty Minerals of Vancouver, would be the biggest open-pit mine on the continent and would generate up to 10 billion tons of toxic waste that would be disposed in the Bristol Bay watershed, threatening the world’s largest wild salmon fishery.

Nonetheless, as Valentine's Day approaches this year marks the fist time that a large number of jewelers — who represent more than $5.75 billion in annual sales and include Zale, Helzberg, Birks & Mayors, and Boucheron — are taking a position on a specific place or mine.

Richard Stoebe, communications director at Jostens, stated, “Jostens recognizes that Alaska’s Bristol Bay watershed is an ecosystem of national and international significance and we support permanent protection of the Bristol Bay Fishery Reserve from large-scale metals mining.”

Katherine Cheung, business manager at John Hardy Jewelry, added, “In the long run, the pursuit of the mine project will be detrimental to the local communities both environmentally and economically. We extend our support to the protection of the Bristol Bay watershed and hope that others will join us in building a more sustainable future where business can grow.”

Commercial fisherman and Alaska Natives in the region heavily rely upon the salmon fishery, which generates about $450 million per annum and provides 10,000 jobs. They are asking the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to make a provision in the Clean Water Act that would restrict the dumping of mine waste in streams, wetlands and rivers that drain into Bristol Bay.

The EPA announced that they would start a scientific review of the suitability of large-scale mining in the watershed, but this action does not represent any regulatory decision, but rather “represents EPA’s proactive steps to better understand the watershed and gather important scientific information,” according to campaigners. 

Nunamta Aulukestai (Caretakers of our Land), an association of nine Alaska Native village corporations in Bristol Bay; the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, which represents 1,865 draftnet fishermen; and the Alaska Independent Fishermen’s Marketing Association are running full-page ads in Washington, D.C.’s Politico and Roll Call, on February 14, asking the EPA to invoke Section 404 (c) of the Clean Water Act.

Kim Williams, executive director for Nunamata Aulukestai, explained, “Salmon is life and our red gold. It sustains our economy and our people. The support from jewelers and the recent announcement by EPA are a great gift this Valentine’s Day. We're confident that this scientific review will show clearly why Bristol Bay should be protected under Section 404(c).”

Bob Waldrop, executive director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, added, “More than half the world’s sockeye spawn and are harvested in the waters of Bristol Bay. For the fishery to continue and prosper, the region’s water and habitat must be protected.”

Also on February 14, Alaskans will be sending “Valentines” to members of Congress and EPA officials in Washington, D.C. that state: “As Alaska Natives and commercial fishermen of Bristol Bay, we urge the EPA to initiate the Clean Water Act’s 404(c) process to protect the waters of Bristol Bay from billions of tons of mine waste.”

According to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Bristol Bay is “simply too special to drill” and the Obama administration has already canceled future leases for offshore oil drilling in the area. With gold prices at record highs, permit applications for the Pebble Mine are expected later this year.

Bonnie Gestring of Earthworks, a national mining reform organization, stated, “We commend these jewelers for their pledge. Consumers don’t want the symbol of their love to come at the expense of this national treasure.”
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