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All We Can Eat
Posted at 01:10 PM ET, 08/31/2012

Chef Rick Moonen stands up for wild Alaskan salmon


The battle over Bristol Bay salmon in Alaska has spilled over to Las Vegas, where chef Rick Moonen is fighting a plan to build a gold and copper mine in the bay's watershed. (Al Grillo/AP)
Who knew there was a salmon lobby in the middle of the Nevada desert?

Dining at RM Seafood, a Las Vegas restaurant in the Mandalay Bay hotel, offers a peek into the fierce battle over whether the federal government should allow a massive gold and copper mine to be constructed in Alaska’s Bristol Bay watershed. Bristol Bay is home to nearly half the world’s sockeye salmon, as well as other wild species such as coho.

But it’s also where Northern Dynasty Minerals, a Canadian company, wants to build Pebble Mine. The Environmental Protection Agency is considering whether to invoke the Clean Water Act on the grounds that mine waste will pollute streams that wild salmon need to spawn.

A laminated specials card that the wait staff hands guests in celebrity chef Rick Moonen ’s restaurant touts the Bristol Bay salmon they serve. But it also carries a message: Oppose Pebble Mine.

“If built, Pebble Mine would produce up to 10 billion tons of toxic waste that will have to be treated for hundreds of years,” it reads. “This waste will threaten Bristol Bay’s $600 million commercial and sport fishery and 12,000 fishing jobs. The future of Bristol Bay is in the hands of President Obama and the EPA.”

John Cunin, the restaurant’s general manager, said Moonen feels so strongly about the issue that he visited Bristol Bay in July and gave personal briefings to the staff on why the watershed deserves protection.

“The staff is kind of gung ho on Bristol Bay,” Cunin said, adding that wild salmon now ranks as the restaurant’s top seller. (Moonen, incidentally, is expected to be in Washington on Friday, Sept. 7, for a State Department special event.)

And how does the salmon taste? The kitchen offered several dishes featuring both wild coho fillets as well as coho roe: The most exceptional was a flatbread prepared with house-cured coho, creme fraiche, coho roe and micro chives.

After a dish like that, people might take to the streets in defense of wild Alaskan salmon.

By  |  01:10 PM ET, 08/31/2012

Categories:  Sustainable Food | Tags:  Juliet Eilperin

 
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