“Salmon maternity ward” at Kitoi Bay Hatchery, Kodiak, AK
Salmon that begin their lives in Alaska hatcheries often save the day for thousands of fishermen when wild stock returns are a bust.
This year was a prime example when hatchery pinks and chums made up for shortfalls throughout the Gulf of Alaska.
“Kodiak hatchery fish added up to more than $6 million for fishermen – also sport fish, subsistence and personal use fisheries.”
Tina Fairbanks is director of the Kodiak Regional Aquaculture Association which operates two local hatcheries.
But the state’s hatchery program, which has operated since the early 1970s, is under assault by a small group who claims the fish are jeopardizing survival of wild stocks.
A Kenai sportfishing group says that “massive releases of pinks from Prince William Sound hatcheries threaten wild sockeye and king salmon bound for their region.”
Another critic from Fairbanks is calling for a decreased cap on how many pinks hatcheries release each year to the sea.
Currently, 29 salmon hatcheries operate in the state that produce mostly chums and pinks. Twenty five are operated by private nonprofit corporations funded by the sale of a portion of the salmon returns. Two sport fish hatcheries are operated by the state at Fairbanks and Anchorage,one research hatchery is run by the National Marine Fisheries Service, and one production hatchery by the Metlakatla Indian Community.
By region, Prince William Sound produced most (69%) of the hatchery fish in 2017, followed by Southeast Alaska (24%), Kodiak (6%) and Cook Inlet (1%).
The hatcheries incubate eggs taken from local wild stocks and release them as tiny fry.
Last year, a take of nearly 47 million hatchery fish accounted for 21 percent of the statewide salmon harvest.
The state Board of Fisheries is holding a special hatchery meeting the afternoon of October 16 in Anchorage.
Fish and Game will provide updates on a long-term study underway since 2011 that is investigating interactions between hatchery and wild salmon in Southeast and Prince William Sound. That will be followed by an open meeting.
United Fishermen of Alaska is offering an easy hatchery comment form that can be filled out and submitted to the Board of Fisheries.
All comments must be submitted to the Fish Board by October 3.