Tuesday, January 02, 2007


Enhancement in Alaska

Hatcheries, or what you will.

The current hatchery system in Alaska is a recent development. At the turn of the century into the 20’s, the Feds had a slightly different system in mind… one that was abused horribly in the lower 48 and the Columbia River system.

This is how “old” hatchery thinking worked.
If the region needed a dam, irrigation ditches, logging (esp. with splash dams), etc., then the hatchery would be the deficit reducer when all the natural and wild salmon had been destroyed by whatever industrial practice was occurring. So if you had 100,000 salmon in a system that were now pretty much decimated, you would replace these by an estimate of 100,000 salmon in hatchery production.

Well, you could see the first problem. There was no way to prove up until 4 or 8 years later when we would find that the hatchery facility could only make 10,000 salmon. By then it was too late. In some cases, there was no built-in funding mechanism for lifespan of the hatchery. Many of the “deals” made for fishermen in the lower 48 would be lightweight deals without longterm funding appropriated.

Of course other issues soon became obvious—well, after about 50-75 years of this stuff going on—issues like genetics. Salmon eggs would be transferred from the Sacramento to the Columbia. Fish that had had generations of breeding to accomplish certain feats on their return migration that matched their river of origin were now replaced by “foreign” fish that had no “game” on their current river or stream. We got better at this over time but the resultant issues are still prevalent in the lower 48.

In Alaska our current enhancement system came into being in the 1970’s. It is based on the best available science to manage and promote the system and the resultant production is based upon economic production for coastal Alaska rather than a replacement for wild stocks. In fact, in most cases of production, the goal has been to augment, rather than replace, natural occurring production. Consequently, the siting of these hatcheries and remote release sites is based upon minimal interaction with wildstock salmon.

Most of the issues facing salmon enhancement in the lower 48 were taken into account and a new dawn of salmon enhancement was about to spring upon Alaska. There still are straying issues, similar to the ones we find in the wildstocks. This is natural. We try to avoid it as much as possible and this is why our hatcheries are sited as far away from wildstock systems as is practical.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game, under new Commissioner Denby Lloyd, manages for wild stock abundance, not for hatchery abundance, in our mixed stock corridors. There are times when the wild and enhanced abundance does not track well enough to justify mixed stock harvest of enhanced salmon. For example, imagine a normal wildstock corridor gets fished 9 of 10 years when there is an abundance of wild salmon as the target species. Incidentally to this wild stock harvest, we are harvesting good numbers of hatchery stock. Now on year 10 there may not be an abundance of wild salmon. That corridor, according to state law, shouldn’t be fished on year 10, or at least it should have reduced fishing time because we are managing for the wildstocks, not the hatchery stocks. Thus the fishing time on the hatchery stocks is now going to be decreased in that area.

The economics of Alaska’s enhancement program is staggering. Many years, a large percentage of Kodiak production occurs at Kitoi hatchery. In PWS, hatcheries have become the standard bearer for production for the purse seine fleet. The drift fleet is a lesser participant in PWS, but I doubt those guys are in favor of the system changing any more than the seiners would be.

In SE Alaska, hatcheries produced somewhere near half of the dollars made by commercial salmon trollers, seiners and drifters in 2006. Normally enhancement is more of an addon in SE. approximately 20% of the coho harvest, 50-75% of the chum harvest, 2-3% of the pink salmon harvest, 10% of the Chinook harvest and a 1-5% of the sockeye harvest is enhanced.

SEAS believes that Alaska’s enhancement program has been an amazing biological as well as economic success. We always welcome debate and insight into how we could do an even better job of managing our hatcheries—many of which we own by the way. Another feature of the modern hatchery system in Alaska is it’s self financing mechanism. No other state or country has ever produced as much enhanced salmon. And no other country has ever tried to privatize their enhancement system like Alaska has.

What we need now for Alaska’s enhancement program is better funding. Fishermen own and pay for many of our hatcheries but there are a few other PNP’s that just go it on their own. These hatcheries are in need of capital projects, new roofs, etc etc. The $95 million total debt incurred to the state( approximately $32 million in PWS, $50 million in SE and the rest wherever) has been the greatest economic return on investment the state of Alaska has ever made. For this $95 million, we have harvested over $1.5 billion worth of salmon, paid $50 million in raw fish taxes, tens of millions in fuel and local taxes, and generated several billion dollars of economy.

So when we have an issue, as apparently we do with the ADFG according to the latest news sources from our friend Wesley Loy, then we must proceed with due care and caution. We don’t need the extra press right now. We need to sit down and evaluate if there are any feathers that are ruffled on our golden goose.

SEAS was initially no big fan of hatchery production since our founding in 1968. However, our current enhancement production was set up to balance out the lean years and is the status quo that we balance our business plans upon. And it is needed to balance out user conflicts and to drive the economies of small coastal towns and villages across this great state…. From Cordova, Kodiak, Homer to Ketchikan, Sitka and Juneau and everywhere in between to some extent.

Sometimes Peninsula folks and western folks from the Bay and whatnot complain that they would like to see us go away. Unfortunately, what they fail to realize is that many of the same processors whose lifeblood is salmon, are afloat today to go west to buy fish just because there exists the economic safety net that defines the hatchery system.

Also, I’m sure our SE drifters, Copper River guys and PWS and SE seiners would be happy to double or triple the effectiveness of the western Alaska fleets if our lifeblood was taken away.
So we’re all in this together. Hatcheries are us.


ps. a relevant article recently at http://ap.alaskajournal.com/stories/state/ak/20070101/134393908.shtml

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