A Passionate Defense of Bristol Bay From Chef Rick Moonen

There's no shortage of things to be outraged about right now, but well, here's another from our friends at Civil Eats.

October 18, 2017 ● 2 min read

By Rick Moonen for Civil Eats | Photos courtesy of Rick Moonen

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.

I 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.

Originally published by Civil Eats.