by Slow Food USA staffer Patrick Keeler
“Good Luck, and Good Fishin’”
Those were the words of Alaska’s Governor Sarah Palin on opening day of salmon fishing season in June of 2007 to the communities along the Nushagak river and the headwaters of Bristol Bay in southwest Alaska. These waters represent the largest wild salmon runs in the world, where over 60 million red sockeye salmon return each season from a single spawning event. Last night a few of us from the Slow Food USA office went to a screening of the new film “Red Gold”, which documents these shimmering fish, their fragile place in the food chain, and the livelihoods of the indigenous and small family fisher communities that depend on this resource.
The wild salmon industry represents over $300 million dollars of Alaska’s economy annually, and the sport fishing industry $60 million. However, both the ecosystem and economy of this region are at risk due to a mining company’s proposed excavation of the largest copper (and gold) deposits in North America, and the second largest of its kind in the world – worth an estimated $345-500 billion. In territory prone to earthquakes, the company (Pebble Mine) will need to build a toxic runoff catchment dam (FYI, the EPA ranks open pit mining the most polluting industry in the nation); the proposed dam would be larger than the controversial Three Gorges Dam in China! All of this is possible because the land in question is state-owned.
“Red Gold” is a cinematographically beautiful, and emotionally moving film that presents the natural beauty of this relatively untouched landscape, and the peoples that survive and make their livings off the land, rather than approaching it as community protest. We’re to fall in love with the natural world here first, in order to realize how precious a resource this would be to squander on a few years’ return on metal.