Step Aside for the Gold Rush

Under ground and sea exists a finite treasure trove of natural resources: oil and precious metals worth billions. World leaders, in their quest for energy and wealth, want access to it. But key fisheries may suffer as a result of massive drilling and mining activities now under consideration. Two separate cases on opposite sides of the continent are worth a close inspection.

The Boston Globe reported on Monday that the Canadian government is seriously considering drilling for oil and natural gas on its side of Georges Bank, smack dab in the middle of fertile groundfish and shellfish fishing grounds just 100 miles off Cape Cod. Nova Scotia's energy minister, Richard Hurlburt, says fishing and oil drilling can "coexist" there.

The prospect of drilling off Georges Bank has energy executives drooling--most of that oil would likely end up in the United States. However, after years of declining groundfish landings, U.S. and Canadian fishermen say it's foolish to disturb a key spawning area for struggling cod and haddock populations and numerous other seafood species that thrive there. With this in mind, Peter Shelley of the Conservation Law Foundation, who fought previous U.S. drilling proposals, told the Globe that Canada's plans for oil development are "particularly maddening."

Canada doesn't limit offshore oil drilling like the United States does, at least outside of the Gulf of Mexico. Since the underwater soil in question belongs to Canada the decision to drill is theirs, much to the chagrin of its fishermen, who rightfully fear the worst. Canadian officials say any drilling operations would be environmentally sensitive, but major groundfish-rebuilding efforts over the past decade-plus would undoubtedly be compromised. It's difficult if not impossible to reverse habitat destruction.

In Alaska, the proposed Pebble Mine, which could reap a fortune in gold, copper and molybdenum, just happens to sit in close proximity to Bristol Bay, home to bountiful salmon fisheries, Alaska's renewable gold mine. Voters there decided yesterday to deny an initiative to block the project and others like it. Proponents of the ballot measure argued that heavy mining there could ruin drinking water and effectively poison two major streams where salmon come to spawn. Fishing and mining are both very Alaskan industries, but voters have made their preference clear.

Looks like the Alaska Gold Rush never ended.

Until sustainable energy sources are developed and economized, the thirst for oil and wealth from other natural resources will be quenched - and well subsidized. Meanwhile, it appears the quest for sustainable seafood simply stands in the way.


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