Two proposals to limit production of hatchery salmon were rejected by the Alaska Board of Fisheries at a special meeting this week in Anchorage. Both claimed that hatchery fish are straying and intermingling with wild stocks, and are out competing wild salmon for food in the open ocean.
Longtime studies by state fishery scientists show some straying of hatchery fish but in very small numbers.
Typically, over 30 percent of Alaska’s total salmon harvest are fish that began their lives in state hatcheries, mostly pinks and chums.
A proposal by the Kenai River Sport Fishing Association asked the board to rescind an authorized increase of egg take of pink salmon at a Prince William Sound hatchery by 20 million eggs. The group claims the fish threaten wild sockeye and king salmon bound for their region.
It lost by a 6 to 1 vote.
Another proposal by former fish board member Virgil Umphenour of Fairbanks asked to cut statewide hatchery egg takes by 25%. That failed by a 5 to 2 vote.
According to the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission (NPAFC) which has summarized abundances and catches of salmon by its member countries of Canada, Japan, Korea, Russia, and the U.S. for over 25 years, salmon catches throughout the North Pacific remain near all-time highs, and Alaska’s take tops them all.
The Commission also tracks releases of hatchery salmon. Its five member countries released just over 5 billion fish in 2017, similar to numbers over three decades.
U.S. hatcheries released the most at 37 percent of the total, followed by Japan at 35 percent and Russia at 21 percent. Chum salmon made up 64 percent of all hatchery releases, followed by pink at 25 percent.
The Oct. 16 half day Fish Board meeting drew lots of support from fishing stakeholders.
SeafoodNews.com’s Peggy Parker said when asked how many people in the packed room depended on hatchery fish for their livelihood, over half stood up.
Currently, 29 salmon hatcheries operate in Alaska.