Alaska salmon hatcheries are on the agenda again when the Board of Fisheries convenes from Nov. 30 - Dec. 6 at Cordova. Seven proposals aim to curtail production at Prince William Sound, where six hatcheries operate, claiming that the fish harm wild stocks.

In 2019, 15 million salmon that got their start in hatcheries were caught in Prince William Sound, accounting for 70 percent of the total commercial catch. According to the annual salmon enhancement report by Alaska Department of Fish & Game, the value to fishermen of nearly $27 million was 67 percent of the total for the region.

About 220 seiners fish in Prince William Sound, hailing from 22 Alaska communities, along with nearly 520 drift gillnetters from 30 towns. The sound also is home to 30 setnet sites.

Lost in the picture is that the hatcheries operate with no state dollars and contribute to all other users.

“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. Through statute we’re provided the opportunity to offer a licensing agreement on an annual basis on returning adult salmon which is a process we call cost recovery. That allows us to recoup our operating expenses,” said Tina Fairbanks, director of the Kodiak Regional Aquaculture Association, at a 2019 Board of Fish meeting at Seward.

“These hatcheries produce salmon for the common property that include sport, subsistence personal use and commercial fisheries at no cost to the state. The revenues generated through commercial harvest landing and fish taxes go back into the communities and state coffers.”

Deadline to comment directly to the Board of Fisheries on the Prince William Sound hatchery proposals is noon, Monday, Nov. 15.

Bycatch hearing

The Alaska House Fisheries committee has scheduled a presentation on bycatch in Alaska's fisheries on Nov. 15 at 10 a.m. at the Anchorage LIO. The meeting will be teleconferenced. From Anchorage call 907-563-9085; from Juneau or outside Alaska call 907-586-9085; from other Alaska areas, call toll-free 844-586-9085. Questions? Contact [email protected] or call 907-465-6007.

Comment on oil/gas lease sales at Lower Cook Inlet

An oil and gas lease sale proposed at Lower Cook Inlet includes nine blocks covering over 1 million acres of seafloor.

The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management opened a public comment period on Oct. 29 for its draft environmental impact statement.

“When friends visit and we go on a halibut charter, that’s the exact area that I’ve taken them to. All of us that are dipnetting or fishing for salmon in the summertime could be impacted by these decisions. Not just one user group, everybody should be chiming in,” said Liz Mering, an advocacy specialist at Cook Inletkeeper.

The waters are located off the mouth of Kachemak Bay’s Critical Habitat Area, created by the Alaska Legislature when it bought back oil and gas leases there in the 1970s.

“This is a very pristine area that hasn’t had this kind of development where fisheries are still very active and is very much used for tourism,” Mering added. “Our sport and commercial fisheries for halibut and salmon and Pacific cod are located in that area.”

If lease sale 258 goes through, Mering predicts decades of conflicts in a region known for big water, strong tides, sea ice and earthquakes.

“I think the fishing conflicts would be insane,” she said. “We're talking about large blocks where you'd see increased boating traffic and tanker traffic, underwater pipelines, seismic testing, big platforms, all of the things that are associated with oil and gas development and lasting at least 40 years.”

In the case of an oil spill, the ocean currents would carry it toward Katmai National Park, Lake Clark and down to Kodiak waters, Mering said.

BOEM will hold three two-hour public hearings Nov. 16-18, where comments will be taken. Written comments can be submitted at through Dec. 13.

Since the comment period opened on Oct. 29, Mering said more than 1,500 people already have signed a petition asking that lease sale 258 be canceled and for permanent protections at Lower Cook Inlet.

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Laine Welch is an independent Kodiak, Alaska-based fisheries journalist. Click here to send her an email.

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