Photo: toddraden, Flickr
Sophisticated jeweler Tiffany & Co. and the fishing community of Bristol Bay, Alaska, may seem worlds apart, but the famed retailer is just one of 50 jewelers that have pledged not to source gold from the controversial Pebble mine project being proposed in the region. (Click here for a full list of jewelers.)
According to the Wall Street Journal, the mine holds one of the world's largest undeveloped deposits of copper and gold. Unfortunately for the 30 million or so sockeye salmon that spawn there each summer, those valuable minerals are located in the area's headwaters. For nearly four years, fishermen and environmentalists have been at odds with mining companies Anglo American PLC and Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd. over the area's natural resources.
"This is the largest, healthiest remaining salmon runs in the world," says commercial fisherman and sustainable seafood consultant Amy Grondin. "Fish from Bristol Bay have been returning here for 9,000 years. They're a sustainable natural resource. Minerals are also a natural resource, but they're not renewable."
The Bristol Bay salmon fishery supplies one-third of the world's commercial salmon, and is an important economic engine to the area, generating approximately $400 million a year. Its strength lies in the salmon population's rich diversity. That's something environmentalists aren't willing to risk. They say the proposed open-pit mine will produce a total of 10 billion tons of contaminated waste and will effectively devastate the current fishery.
Conservation group Trout Unlimited's website says, "The industrial footprint of this massive sulfide deposit, if developed, could span anywhere from 15 to 54 square miles. According to preliminary designs filed with the State of Alaska, the mine could require the world's largest earthen dam, some 4.3 miles long and 700 feet high, to contain billions of tons of mining waste."
Backers of the Pebble mine project say it will generate much-needed jobs in the area while securing important minerals used in industrial machinery, construction and cars. The Pebble Partnership expects to finalize a preliminary development plan and apply for permits in 2011.
Tiffany CEO Michael Kowalski was quoted as saying, "We must look to other places to responsibly source our gold." That may go both ways -- we like their website for sourcing our fish (especially the Frank Gehry-designed fish necklace).