Chef Tom Douglas Is Leading a Seattle Coalition to Save Bristol Bay

The Seattle chef says we need to eat wild salmon to save them.
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Have you noticed the billboard projection above Tom Douglas’ Palace Kitchen on Fifth Avenue? For the month of February, the projection rotated through slides all having to do with one subject: saving Bristol Bay.

Located in southwest Alaska, Bristol Bay is one of the last places in the world to commercially catch wild salmon. As of this year, about 50 percent of all wild sockeye salmon supply comes from Bristol Bay, said Elizabeth Herendeen, marketplace manager of SalmonState. Almost all the wild salmon from Bristol Bay flows through Seattle before it is shipped nationally and internationally. However, a gold and copper mine project threatens to hurt the wild salmon return and livelihood in the bay.

Chef Tom Douglas has been a fervent supporter of stopping the Pebble Mine project planned for Bristol Bay since he got involved with The Breach, a documentary by filmmaker Mark Titus.

”We have f--ked up every commercial fishery that we’ve had down here in the states, all 48 states, so this is the last frontier, this is the last one available,” Douglas said.

Across from Palace Kitchen and the billboard projection, Douglas held a gathering at the Palace Ballroom to discuss what Seattleites can do to stop the Pebble Mine project and also to celebrate and offer a peek at Titus’ new documentary project, The Wild, slated to be completed in July. Bristol Bay salmon was showcased at the event with six stations of barbecued, smoked and even pickled fish.

In attendance was Seattle chef Renee Erickson, who has also been involved with sustainable fishing efforts, along with representatives from Businesses for Bristol Bay (BB4B), who brought flyers, posters and postcards. Several local companies and business owners, including PCC, Grand Central Bakery, Patagonia, and Kevin Davis, chef and owner of Blueacre Seafood, Orfeo, Steelhead Diner, and a steakhouse expected to open this summer, are all part of the BB4B coalition.

Douglas had some seemingly strange advice on how to support Bristol Bay and wild salmon.

“In order for us to save those fish, we have to eat them,” he said. “And I know people think: ‘That’s just weird,’ but if you don’t create an economy around those fish, if you don’t give the indigenous people of that area a reason to fish…they’re going to choose a gold and copper mine instead.”

Though the Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt put the Pebble Mine project on hold earlier this month in order to take public comments, the EPA is still considering proposals for the project.

“Your voice matters,” Herendeen said to the crowd at Palace Ballroom. She urged everyone to make themselves heard during the 30-to-60 day comment period happening in March. Most public comment periods last at least 120 days.

Titus’ advice for the crowd was simple: “Vote with your fork.”

Choose to eat wild, to save wild.

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