Tall People, Big Mines and the Man Who Would Stop a Salmon Holocaust - Oceana USA
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October 19, 2010

Tall People, Big Mines and the Man Who Would Stop a Salmon Holocaust

This is the first in a series of four guest posts by Paul Greenberg, author of the bestselling book, Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food.

A few times in my life I have walked into a party and found myself in a crowd where I’m about as tall as the shortest woman in the room.

As a man who is perched safely above the national average for male height, I have come to take these anomalous parties not as sleights to my standing in the world, but rather as venues where I ought to pay careful attention. For, as so many studies have found, extreme height is linked to extreme wealth, power and influence. Find yourself in a room with very, very tall people, and it’s likely some very important decisions could be made. 

And so it was this past Monday night, when Bob Gillam hosted an event for some of New York’s tallest hoping to raise consciousness (and, yes, money) to stop “Pebble Mine” the biggest, most egregious onslaught against wild fish we have seen in the last quarter century. For those not aware of it, Pebble Mine is a proposed copper and gold mine that a group called “Anglo American” has put together at the headwaters of Bristol Bay, Alaska. 

Bristol Bay is by far the largest salmon nursery in the world. Its salmon runs are so large that if you were to compare them to the pathetic, destroyed runs left in California, Oregon, and Washington, Bristol Bay would be the entirety of this blog post whereas those more southerly salmon would comprise less than a fraction of the period at the end of this sentence.

60 million fish a year. $400 million dollars in fisheries wealth. All about to be snuffed out by a floating wave of mining capital that has decided it is a good idea to build the world’s largest earthen dam in an earthquake zone, spend billions of dollars in public money to set up a maze of roads and bridges and turn one of the most pristine places on earth into an open pit mine so large, that all of North America’s other open pit mines would fit safely inside it. 

In other words, I was glad that a room of very tall people had gathered to stop this project. For undoubtedly some very tall people in another room somewhere else were trying to ram this sucker through. Bob Gillam to date has spent 24 million dollars of his own money on this project, suing Anglo-American at every turn. 

When Anglo-American tried to build a road around Lake Iliamna (a body of water that at any one time contains 1 trillion juvenile and adult salmon—not to mention freshwater seals) to get at all that gold and copper, Gillam sued and won summary judgment. When the consortium tried to redirect and put a bridge over a river to the sea to get the copper and gold out, Gillam sued again and again won summary judgment.  “Strategery, as George W. Bush would say,” Gillam laughed when he presented his victories last night.  “The only way Anglo-American is going to get the copper and gold out is by helicopter.” 

That you have to go to a private party on the 52nd floor of a building in Manhattan to hear about all this is astounding. While people mince around trying to save this run of 1000 salmon in Oregon or that run of 5000 salmon in Maine, most American conservationists are completely unaware that the Holocaust of salmon kind is about to take place in Alaska. 

Were it not for Gillam and a few others dedicated to the cause, it might have already happened. This is something that can be stopped.  “We can win this,” Gillam said again and again during his address. The very tall people nodded in agreement. Their hands were aflutter with applause and after Gillam’s address was over and I saw a few of them drift over to their back pockets and reach for their wallets . . .