Understanding Conservation, the Clean Water Act and Bristol Bay

sunset in alaska
Photo Credit: Paxson Woelber

Developing a passion for fly fishing generally comes hand in hand with an understanding of the importance of conservation efforts and keeping our waterways clean. Of course, if pollution, poor water quality and disease all start to impact your favorite stream, it follows that fish populations will decline and you will no longer be able to enjoy yourself on your local waterway. It is the responsibility of each and every angler, and indeed anybody else who spends time on, in or around the water, to take an interest and understand the issues surrounding water quality and stream conservation.

The Clean Water Act

The Clean Water Act (CWA) of 1972 was initially a rehash and expansion of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1948. Under the CWA, the Environmental Protection Agency has put in place a number of pollution control programs, including the setting of waste-water standards for industry, as well as setting water quality standards for all contaminants in surface waters. For instance, permits are required to discharge any pollutant from a point source (such as an industrial pipe or ditch system) into all navigable waters, in an effort to ensure that local waterways are not affected by industry and environmental changes.

Bristol Bay, Alaska

The natural beauty throughout the state of Alaska is rich and abundant, and compared to the rest of the United States, relatively untouched. While Alaska’s isolated nature means that waterways are generally purer and cleaner than almost anywhere, this is gradually changing as more development begins to strike out across the state. This means that important environmental measures and regulations need to be put into place in order to ensure that the natural beauty and pristine features that make Alaska so special are maintained.

salmon fishing in alaska
photo Credit: Lake Clark National Park

One area in particular where this is becoming more and more important with each passing day is Bristol Bay. Bristol Bay is one of the most pure and pristine areas in Alaska, and is located in the southwest of the state.

Sockeye Salmon - Fly Fishing in Alaska
Photo Credit: “That Irish SOB”

The flight to Bristol Bay from Anchorage is an hour and a half long, and shows you the majestic snowy peaks of the Alaskan Range, two beautiful National Parks, three active volcanoes, and the wetlands and tundra rich in rivers that flow into Bristol Bay. This provides the perfect environment for wild salmon, and is indeed one of the best wild salmon fisheries in the whole world.

This environment becomes even more important with each passing day, as wild salmon fisheries are disappearing around the world at an alarming rate due primarily to human impact and pollution. While mining, over-fishing and development have caused the decline of many previously successful wild salmon fisheries, the Bristol Bay area continues to produce what is now the world’s largest wild sockeye salmon fishery. However, Bristol Bay is not immune to the problems faced in other parts of the world, and the push for development of southwest Alaska threatens the viability of this valuable and important resource.

fly fishing in Alaska
Photo Credit: Bob Canepa

In particular, several international mining corporations have expressed interest in turning the region into an industrial mining district, a move that would have devastating effects on the wild salmon populations and the entire salmon fishing industry. What would be the largest open-pit mine in North America, the proposal for the Pebble Mine would result in the mining of an area that covers two of the most important salmon streams of Bristol Bay. It is unlikely that it would be possible for the mine to operate without destroying the century and a half old commercial and sport fishing salmon industry worth over $360 million.

The social, economic, cultural and environmental importance of Bristol Bay salmon cannot simply be assigned a monetary value, as the importance of this industry within the community and throughout the state runs deeper than that. However, this area is under threat, and it is up to government agencies such as the EPA to enforce the CWA and other relevant legislature to conserve this valuable resource.

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I spend time between the love of my life (my wife), my digital agency, and trying to squeak in time for fly fishing when I can hide from responsibilities. If you want to strike up a conversation with me try subjects on: fly fishing, fly tying, cooking, photography, reading, camping or anything related to social media or marketing.