November 11, 2015


This is Fish Radio. I’m Laine Welch. Are too many ocean pinks threatening sockeye salmon? Hatchery pros respond after this –

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Alaska hatchery operators aren’t buying the claim that swarms of pink salmon are threatening sockeyes by out-eating them in the ocean – a race for food affects sockeye abundance and survival.

My reaction is that he is speculating that there is a correlation and that it is causative. I would disagree that it’s causative.

Steve Reifenstuhl is general manager at Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture. He responded to a report by Seattle and British Columbia researchers who claim the North Pacific has reached its carrying capacity. The food competition report tries to make its pink versus red salmon case at the Fraser River and at Bristol Bay. Five billion juvenile hatchery salmon are released into the ocean each year by Pacific Rim nations, the report says, and production should be capped.

Do you think we can control Russia? Russian and Japan would quickly move to fill that void if there was a cap.

Certainly increased competition can decrease a salmon’s body size, as we’ve seen in big runs, Reifenstuhl says, but it doesn’t mean more will die. Where 10 to 90 percent of the sockeyes do die is in near shore waters, before they even head out to sea. Kodiak hatchery operators agree the report’s premise is unproven.

What is driving at is this idea of ocean carrying capacity. I feel like if that is the case, on the whole, we wouldn’t be seeing returns like we had in 2013 for pink salmon, which I don’t think that was a particularly poor sockeye salmon year. Look, too, at the Bristol Bay forecast for 2015, it’s huge and so is the forecast for SE sockeye salmon. In looking at that, and whether or not at this point in time ocean carrying capacity for current production is a valid argument, that is still up in the air. 

Tina Fairbanks is director of the Kodiak Regional Aquaculture Association. KRAA operates two hatcheries which typically produce 20 to 30 percent of the island’s pinks.

Trent Dodson, KRAA Production and operations manager, calls the Kodiak release of 144 million pinks a blip on the global radar, but says it sure is important locally.

Last year in a case when we had a low wild pink return and a better than average hatchery return, we were able to help bridge that gap and provide a economic benefit for common property fishermen than wouldn’t have been there otherwise. It would’ve been a disastrous year.

The report is in the March Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences. Find links at

Fish Radio is also brought to you by Ocean Beauty Seafoods. Ocean Beauty has contributed over 10 million meals to the U.S. Food Bank network, and is committed to ending hunger in America.     In Kodiak, I’m Laine Welch.