An open-pit mine threatens 151 kilometres of salmon-bearing streams in Alaska. Two Saltspring Island filmmakers take the mining company to task and the result is the film Fish First. Story by Mike Graeme.

In Fish First, Salt Spring Island, British Columbia-based directors Alex Harris and Luke Wallace explore what is at stake as North America’s largest gold and copper deposit threatens the world’s largest sockeye-salmon fishery near Bristol Bay, Alaska. Pebble Mine is a proposed open-pit gold and copper mine located at the headwaters of the Bristol Bay watershed, and a scientific study by the state’s own Environmental Protection Agency has claimed construction of the mine’s deposit will destroy 151 kilometres of salmon-bearing streams and 5,350 acres of wetlands and Alaskan wilderness.

Through aerial and point-of-view cinematography, Fish First showcases the beauty of Bristol Bay: ancestral Indigenous village sites, riverside fishing lessons from an Indigenous net-setting expert, and the sights and sounds inside a working smokehouse. The film highlights Indigenous fishing practices and policies that have maintained one of the world’s oldest fisheries for millennia.

Harris brings the film’s implications back to British Columbia, juxtaposing the Alaskan scenes with monologues by Wallace—who is also an accomplished folk singer-songwriter—as he walks through downtown Vancouver, before arriving outside the headquarters of Pebble Mine proponent Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd. Like a spawning salmon, Fish First explores the beauty of a productive watershed in a long struggle to an inevitable fate should Pebble Mine be approved.

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