Bristol Bay event highlights Oregon ties to Alaska fishery

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The employees of Portland-based Illiamna Fish Company depend on the salmon of Bristol Bay.

The employees of Portland-based Illiamna Fish Company depend on the salmon of Bristol Bay. (Photo by Corey Arnold.)

The nonprofit group Trout Unlimited is hosting an event Wednesday in Portland to raise awareness of the threat posed by a copper and gold mine to the sockeye salmon fishery in Bristol Bay, Alaska.

The fishery holds strong ties to Oregon, home to 139 Bristol Bay fishing permit holders, representing businesses and individuals who return to Alaska every summer to fish for the salmon.

"It's one of the last remaining sustainable fisheries and largest salmon runs in the world," said Alan Hummel, director of the meat and seafood department for New Seasons Market. "Why would we want to tamper with that?"

Hummel estimates that New Seasons will sell about 50,000 pounds of Bristol Bay salmon this year.

Among Oregon's Bristol Bay permit holders are 22 fishermen who make up Portland-based Iliamna Fish Company.

Every summer the group fishes from aluminum skiffs out of a spot called Graveyard Point, bringing in thousands of pounds of salmon some of which return to Portland with Iliamna to be sold to outlets including New Seasons, restaurants such as Clarklewis, Metrovino and Bamboo Sushi, and through a community-supported agriculture — or in this case community-supported fishery — arrangement that provides salmon directly to some 350 local families.

"We're all independent contractors," said Reid Ten Kley, who heads up Iliamna, named for the lake his parents homesteaded on in Alaska. "Each boat represents its own small business."

Ten Kley said the threat posed by the Pebble Mine, which would pull copper and gold out of the earth near the headwaters of Bristol Bay, is the most troubling he's seen.

"I'm pro-business but in this case you have two businesses competing against each other," he said. "Our fish have a good value."

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