Letter: Louisianians should understand Alaskan environmental issue

In Louisiana, fishing is a way of life that goes far beyond simply being the “Sportsman’s Paradise.” This is certainly true for me and my family, as we’ve been fishing in south Louisiana for 275 years. I’d like to think that I continue this through my current work with “The Outdoor Kitchen Show;” indeed, my favorite shows are the ones when I get to fish — and cook — with fishing guides off the coast and along the bayous.

If there’s one state in the country whose fishing culture compares to South Louisiana, it’s Alaska. For thousands of years, Alaskans have fished the Last Frontier, and for the past 130 years, a vibrant commercial fishery has existed in Bristol Bay in the southwestern part of the state.

Unfortunately, Bristol Bay and its world-class salmon fishery are under threat from a proposal to build North America’s largest open pit mine at the bay’s headwaters. In Louisiana terms, imagine building a 1,700-foot pit near the source of the Atchafalaya or Bayou Lafourche. That wouldn’t fly.

But that’s what could happen in Alaska unless actions are taken to stop the mine. Bristol Bay’s $1.5 billion commercial fishery, as well as the guides, fishermen and lodge owners who own businesses in the region, could be wiped out by the so-called Pebble Mine. And for cooking enthusiasts like me, we’d be losing the source of half the world’s wild sockeye salmon, a nutrient-rich fish that is enjoyed the world over. Fortunately, the EPA has started the Clean Water Act process — based on strong science — to stop the Pebble Mine before it can cause any more damage to the region. But I was dismayed to learn that Sen. David Vitter sponsored legislation that would strip the EPA’s ability to stop projects like Pebble that would clearly harm the environment and existing industries, too.

Senate Bill 2156, or the Regulatory Fairness Act, specifically targets the Pebble project and would halt the EPA’s thorough efforts in the region; efforts that came at the request of the Alaskan people, who also overwhelmingly oppose the mine.

While I know Sen. Vitter is no fan of the EPA, in this case, the agency is acting prudently and can actually take steps to protect jobs and a way of life. I simply can’t understand why he would sponsor legislation that runs counter to the desires of another state’s people, especially when Louisiana is so proud of our fishing heritage.

I can only hope that Sen. Mary Landrieu resists calls to join him in supporting the legislation. SB2156 — and the Pebble mine — are truly bad ideas for Americans who appreciate fish and the culture and the way of life they support.

Marissa Rabalais Turner

host, “The Outdoor Kitchen Show”

Prairieville