Alaskan commercial fisherman and photographer Corey Arnold traveled to Maine to share some of his favorite stories and photographs of fishermen and their catch in the presentation Fish-Work at the Strand Theatre on Aug. 9. On the trip to Rockland, he talked with the Island Institute’s Marine Programs director, Nick Battista, about salmon fishing in Bristol Bay, this year’s season, the guessing game of fish prices, and the controversial Pebble Mine project.
In the last three years we’ve probably averaged around 95,000 pounds [of salmon] in about a month of fishing. This year I had two permits and two boats, so we caught 160,000 pounds. Those were really good seasons. There are fish coming so fast and strong that we could catch almost our whole season in a week when they’re really there, at the peak. I would hope to catch a minimum of 50,000 pounds. It’s still profitable—you could catch 30,000 pounds and break even—but I wouldn’t be able to keep a crew around very long if I were catching that.
It’s a little tricky, because we don’t even get a price for fishing—we don’t even know what we’re fishing for. There was a big lawsuit a while back and [the processors] were found guilty of price fixing. So they were forced to set a price, because they were not giving us a price. So then they passed the law, they’ve got to set a price, so they’re all like, “Okay, one penny, that’s your price. We posted it: one penny.” It’s unbelievable. Of course, the fisherman are so independent-minded, they’re not good at uniting.
Out with the Farmed, In with the Wild
We’re getting higher and higher prices than ever before, because farm salmon is becoming out of fashion because of good labeling laws—that’s been a big help. People are becoming more educated on what’s farmed and what’s wild. If it says “Atlantic salmon,” it’s pretty much farmed. [There’s been] a lot of bad press about farm salmon, about the chemicals they use to kill the parasites, the dyes they use to turn the meat pink and the fact that it’s just less taste.
The cool thing about Bristol Bay is it’s not hatchery fishing, it’s all purely wild. Most of the other rivers in Alaska are hatchery supplemented. It’s like the last real, pristine, thriving, massive salmon river in the world.
The Problems with Pebble Mine
According to the Save Bristol Bay campaign: “The Pebble deposit is a massive storehouse of gold, copper and molybdemum, located in the headwaters of the Kvichak and Nushagak Rivers, two of the eight major rivers that feed Bristol Bay. If built, Pebble would be one of the largest mines in the world. Because of its size, geochemistry and location, Pebble runs a high risk of polluting Bristol Bay, one of the world’s few and most productive wild salmon strongholds that supports a $500 million commercial and sport fishery.”
It’s just the beginning. They are pumping so much money into propaganda and advertising campaigns”¦and buying up and cleaning up the communities, pumping all this money into the native villages to sort of look like the good guys. They have to build this massive pipeline to slur the minerals in the deepwater port. It’s just such a huge project.
Meanwhile, the amount of territory around Pebble Mine that’s been claimed, that’s open for mining also, and exploration, it’s been claimed by all these other companies. In the last five, six, seven years, they’ve been doing core samples and getting data and now they’re ready to go. They’re all just waiting for the infrastructure to be set up and then they’re going to dive in. It’s just going to become a huge mining district if the ball gets rolling.
They’re always making the claim that they’ll never build the mine if they can’t do it safely, and they’ll never build the mine if the majority of the natives or Alaskans are against it. It’s right around 50/50—a little more against it I think. But there are a lot of pro-industry people in Alaska. It’s uniting fishermen broader than just Bristol Bay, and it’s uniting sport fishermen, who traditionally don’t really get along.
Visit www.savebristolbay.org to learn more about how the Pebble Mine project will affect commercial and sport fishing in Bristol Bay, Alaska.