Hatcheries in the southern portion of Southeast Alaska from Dixon Entrance to Frederick Sound provide stability for the region’s fishermen and processors, and a big chunk of fish for sports anglers.
An economic impact report this month by the McDowell Group profiled the Southern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association – a non-profit that operates seven hatcheries and seven release sites. It shows that over the last 10 years, it has contributed 19 percent of the volume and 28 percent of the value of the region’s total harvests.
The combined hatcheries produce and release around 170 million salmon smolts to the sea annually.
As a portion of the overall catches averaged over five years from 2008 through 2017, they accounted for 57 percent of chum catches, 39 percent for Chinook and 31 percent of coho harvests.
Over that five year period, earnings of commercial salmon fishermen attributable to the hatchery fish totaled $84 million for an annual average of just under $17 million.
It added up to a contribution of more than 210 million pounds of salmon worth $175 million to the local fisheries.
Most of the southern hatchery fish payouts benefited salmon fishermen in the Petersburg-Wrangell area at 37 percent, followed by Ketchikan at 29 percent and Prince of Wales residents at 25 percent of their dockside value.
By gear type, 46 percent of the hatchery salmon harvest value is dominated by the seine flee, 32 percent to gillnetters and 21 percent to trollers.
The report said that a key benefit of returning hatchery salmon is that it provides stable chum returns to processors to balance out volatility in other species, especially those tough to predict pinks.
Local processors earned an estimated gross margin of $134 million on hatchery salmon over the five years, with chum roe accounting for nearly half.
The role of local hatchery-reared fish in the sportfishing sector is especially prominent near Ketchikan. Creel surveys showed that roughly a third of the Chinook salmon caught in that area are from local hatcheries along with about 13 percent of the sport coho harvest.
The state closely monitors straying of hatchery fish into wild systems in all areas where the fish are released.
A long-term study at Southeast Alaska and Prince William Sound is currently underway on interactions of hatchery and wild salmon to provide guidance for assessing Alaska’s hatchery program.
The Southern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association has been operating since 1976.