Why is Bristol Bay important for salmon? And seven other Bristol Bay facts

Aerial view of Bristol Bay watershed

Alaska’s Bristol Bay is a sprawling watershed of winding streams and rivers, vast wetlands and tundra, forests of alder and spruce, and home to a variety of fish, birds and terrestrial animals. This breathtaking place is rightly referred to as “America’s Fish Basket” because it is one of the most productive marine ecosystems in the world and home to the world’s largest salmon fishery.

Bristol Bay is a national treasure that needs to be protected. Learn more about this incredible place that WWF is working hard to save.

1. Where is Bristol Bay?
Bristol Bay is in southwest Alaska.


2. What kind of species live in Bristol Bay?
The Bristol Bay watershed provides vital habitat for 29 fish species, more than 190 bird species, and more than 40 terrestrial animals. Bald eagles, moose, brown bears, rainbow trout, freshwater seals, pacific walrus, north pacific right whales and beluga whales all live in the region.


3. Why is Bristol Bay important for salmon?
Bristol Bay is the most productive salmon ecosystem in North America, and it is unmatched in its productivity. All five species of Pacific salmon—sockeye, Chinook, coho, chum, and pink—spawn and rear in the Bristol Bay watershed, supporting wildlife like brown bears and eagles, as well as human industry and culture. The watershed supports the largest sockeye salmon run in the world, producing about 46% of the world’s wild sockeye harvest. The fishery is valued at more than $1.5 billion and provides nearly 20,000 jobs throughout the United States annually. Over 4,000 locals, including many native Yup’ik and Dena’ina, rely on fish, moose, and other subsistence foods for 80% of their protein.


4. What threats does Bristol Bay face?
Today, the world’s Arctic regions— including Bristol Bay—are warming faster than practically anywhere else on Earth. Warming stream temperatures and reduced water flows from dwindling winter snows may ultimately threaten the survival of salmon eggs and fry. Left unchecked, rising sea level could inundate vast areas of highly productive habitat on land. The bay also faces another threat: the Pebble Mine project.


5. What is Pebble Mine?
Pebble Mine is a proposed open pit gold and copper mine. The Pebble Mine deposit is located at the headwaters of the Bristol Bay watershed, beneath Bristol Bay’s two most productive river systems in a seismically active region.


6. How would Pebble Mine hurt Bristol Bay?
Developers want to dig a mine that is one-mile-wide and a quarter-mile deep, leading to the destruction of 3,000 acres of wetlands and more than 21 miles of salmon streams. The scar on Alaska's pristine, productive environment would be visible from space. This summer the US Army Corps of Engineers took action to delay a final decision on the Pebble Mine amid concerns about "significant degradation" to aquatic resources in the Bristol Bay area.


7. What is WWF doing to protect Bristol Bay?
WWF has been partnering with in-region organizations to build community and village support and a longer-term branding initiative to support a sustainable economy into the future. WWF has also advocated with the US government about how important Bristol Bay is to Alaska and the rest of the U.S.


8. What can I do to help protect Bristol Bay?
This has been a decade-long battle and in the last five years alone, more than half a million Americans have joined WWF in urging the US government to stop the Pebble Mine from moving forward. We cannot stop our fight to protect Bristol Bay, Alaska.