Commercial fishermen pick up the tab for just about anyone who catches a salmon in Alaska that started its life in a hatchery.

That was revealed during a hearing last week of the House Fisheries Committee on the state’s hatchery program which began in the mid-1970s to enhance Alaska’s wild salmon runs.

“Who funds the hatchery programs?” asked Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins of Sitka referring to the 25 private, non-profit associations that operate in Prince William Sound, Southeast Alaska, Kodiak and Cook Inlet.

Turns out, it’s commercial fishermen.  Tina Fairbanks is director of the Kodiak Regional Aquaculture Association.

“In each region where there is an aquaculture association, commercial salmon permit holders have levied a salmon enhancement tax upon themselves from one to three percent. In addition, through statute we’re provided the opportunity to offer a licensing agreement on an annual basis on returning adult salmon to our projects which is a process we call cost recovery. That allows us to recoup our operating expenses.”


                            March 28-30 in Kodiak

In 2017 cost recovery fish, which fetch a lower price for fishermen than selling to processors, accounted for 79 percent of hatchery income.

Fairbanks called Alaska’s hatchery program one of the most successful public/private partnerships in the state’s history.

“These faculties produce salmon for the common property that include sport, subsistence personal use and commercial fisheries at no cost to the state of Alaska. The revenues generated through commercial harvest landing and fish taxes go back into the communities and state coffers and represent a great return on the state’s initial investment.”

Having sport charter operators contribute to the hatchery program has been discussed, but it’s really not needed, said Steve Reifenstuhl, director of the Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association.

  “Because of the mechanism we have for doing cost recovery there is not really a need to bring in additional money.  We have a good avenue for that.”   

Representative Sarah Vance of Homer said it was a real eye opener.

 “That’s very refreshing to hear right now that you have adequate revenue. That is not something we hear very often,” said Rep Sarah Vance.  “So thank you to all the fishermen who contribute and make it sustainable.”  

It appears that Alaska’s commercial fishermen are paying the costs of a program that benefits all users. said Rep. Kreiss-Tompkins.   

 “It seems to me that the commercial fishing industry is paying out millions of dollars through foregone revenue in cost recovery and enhancement revenues that benefit Alaskans collectively. It’s paying for all Alaskans in a sense by underwriting this common benefit.”

 Kreiss-Tompkins said he would like an analysis done on the issue.