There are many fascinating facts about Alaska. One of them is how landlocked species of fish, animals, and plants receive the required nutrients. With the weather extremes, short growing season, and lack of soil, making the area biologically rich requires an extraordinary life form. Fishing lodges thrive throughout the Bristol Bay area because sport fishers consider it one of the most desirable places to catch wild salmon and trout. In addition to the sport fishing, native people and commercial fishing operations make a living in the Bristol Bay area. Both humans and wildlife in the area depend on one fish species, the red salmon, or as it is also known, the sockeye.
More than 60 million wild salmon pour into Bristol Bay every year, sustaining the wildlife and human economy. Sockeye eggs provide food for all five species of Pacific salmon, but they also allow the land-locked species Arctic char, Dolly Varden trout, and rainbow trout to exist. The fry, smolts, and adults support commercial and subsistence harvesting.
The total mass of sockeyes each year is in the millions of tons. After the sockeyes have spawned, they die, and their carcasses provide nutrients that allow plants to thrive in an area with very little soil. Without the sockeye, the entire Bristol Bay area would be a biological desert unable to support any fish or animals that eat fish.
Mining operations are trying hard to get permission to establish several kinds of mines in the Bristol Bay region. Undoubtedly, such operations would create roads capable of hauling metals, mining equipment, chemical leaching, and waste materials. Supplying food and managing waste from hundreds of miners and support personnel living in the Bristol Bay area for years at a time could destroy the fragile ecosystem, harming those who depend on it. The more scientists study the ecology of Alaska, the more they become aware of its fragility.
Bristol Bay speaks of our need to care for the creation that God has placed in our hands. It is hard to experience this area and believe its formation and natural balance happened because of blind, accidental chance. We must not allow it to become a showcase for selfish human greed and mismanagement.
— John N. Clayton © 2024
Reference: Alaska Magazine for February 2024, page 48.