BRISTOL BAY

Todd Radenbaugh

WHY TO LOVE THIS PLACE

Bristol Bay is the largest commercial sockeye salmon producing region in the world and home to one of the most prolific king salmon runs left on Earth. Roughly the size of West Virginia, the Bristol Bay Watershed includes nine major river systems tucked between Katmai National Park, Lake Clark National Park and the nation’s largest state park — Wood-Tikchik State Park.

LOCATION

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HOT SPOT

Bristol Bay is located along the Pacific Ring of Fire and home to three active volcanoes: Mt. Veniaminof, Iliamna and Redoubt.

GREAT LAKE

Lake Iliamna is the largest lake in Alaska, and the third largest lake located completely within the borders of the United States.

BEAR CENTRAL

Bristol Bay is home to the world’s greatest concentration of giant coastal grizzly (brown) bears — and there's a reason for that.

ECONOMIC ENGINE

The combined Bristol Bay fishery is valued at $1.5 billion and supports more than 14,000 jobs.

THE GREAT OUTDOORS

Recreation and tourism spending in Bristol Bay bring in $90 million in revenue annually to Alaska.

THE FIGHT TO PROTECT BRISTOL BAY FROM THE PROPOSED PEBBLE MINE

Pebble Mine is a massive proposed copper, gold and other mineral mine in the Bristol Bay region of Southwest Alaska. If fully developed, Pebble Mine could produce 10.2 billion tons of toxic waste that will be stored at the headwaters of the Bristol Bay Watershed forever. Even a small amount of the poisonous acid and toxic waste runoff from the mine will destroy the salmon habitat and the Alaskans who rely on it. And taxpayers will be left with the bill to clean up the destruction.

Environmental impact studies say the mine will directly impact thousands of acres of wetlands and hundreds of miles of streams, and the Environmental Protection Agency concluded that any mining would pose an irreversible risk to species in the area.

THE PEOPLE OF THE BRISTOL BAY WATERSHED

For generations, Alaska Natives have hunted and fished on the lands surrounding Bristol Bay. There are 31 federally recognized Yup’ik, Dena’ina and Alutiiq tribes in the region that depend on salmon to support their traditional ways of life. The Alaska Native cultures present in the Nushagak River and Kvichak River watersheds — the Yup'ik and Dena'ina — are two of the last intact, sustainable salmon-based cultures in the world.

Salmon are integral to the entire way of life in these cultures as subsistence food and as the foundation for their language, spirituality and social structure.

Photo credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

FEATURED ANIMAL: SOCKEYE SALMON

Also known as: Red or blueback salmon

Length: 24 to 33 inches

Weight: 5 to 15 lbs

Circle of life: On the west coast of North America, sockeye salmon range from the Klamath River in Oregon to Point Hope in northwestern Alaska. Like other Pacific salmon, sockeyes are born in fresh water, but unlike other species, they require a lake nearby to rear in. Once hatched, juveniles stay in their natal habitat for up to three years before journeying out to sea. They stay in the ocean for one to four years before returning to spawn. They then die within weeks of spawning — and they do provide a mighty tasty meal for hungry brown bears!

Fun fact: Sockeyes have silver flanks and a white belly, with black speckles and a bluish top, giving them their "blueback" name. Then, as they return upriver to their spawning grounds, they turn bright red and their heads take on a greenish color — the origin of their other common name, “red” salmon.

Photo Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Katrina Liebich