Salmon returning home to Alaska hatcheries again accounted for nearly a third of the statewide catch for commercial fishermen with 64 million fish in 2021. It was the eighth largest hatchery homecoming since 1977. And at a payout of $142 million, the salmon produced 25 percent of the overall value at Alaska docks.

An additional 220,000 salmon that got their start in a hatchery also were caught in Alaska sport, personal use and subsistence fisheries.

Nearly 70 million adult hatchery salmon returned last year, according to the annual salmon enhancement report by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Pinks comprised the bulk of the pack, topping 57 million, followed by chum salmon at 9.4 million.

Currently, 30 salmon hatcheries operate in Alaska. Twenty-six are operated by private, nonprofit corporations and are funded primarily by the sale of a portion of the returning fish. Of these, 11 are state-owned and operate at no cost to Alaska residents. The state also operates two sportfish hatcheries, one research hatchery is run by NMFS, and the Metlakatla Indian Community also owns and operates a hatchery.

Rankings by returns
  • Prince William Sound had the highest number of hatchery returns in 2021 at 48.2 million salmon. Nearly 40 million were caught in the commercial fisheries, worth almost $68 million to fishermen, or 62 percent of the dockside value. Pink salmon contributed the most at $49 million.
  • Kodiak ranked second for hatchery salmon returns at 11.6 million fish. That produced a catch of more than 8 million fish worth $10 million to fishermen. Pink salmon contributed most to the value at over $8 million, followed by sockeyes at $1.5 million.
  • Southeast Alaska had a total return of 8.2 million hatchery salmon. Nearly 5 million of those were caught, valued at $32 million to fishermen, or 27 percent of the region’s dockside value.
  • Cook Inlet ranked fourth for hatchery returns at 827,000 salmon. The fish contributed about 134,000 salmon to the inlet’s commercial fishery, valued at $946,000, or 5 percent of the value to fishermen. Sockeye salmon paid out the most by far at $908,000, followed by pink salmon at $38,000.
By the numbers
  • Since 1995, annual releases by Alaska’s combined hatcheries have ranged from 1.4 billion to 1.8 billion juvenile salmon.
  • About 1.7 billion fish were released in 2021, mostly from eggs collected in 2020. They included 870 million pink salmon and 750 million chums.
  • Alaska hatchery operators expect a total return of just over 44 million salmon in 2022.

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Laine Welch has covered the Alaska fish beat for print and radio since 1988. She has also worked “behind the counter” at retail and wholesale seafood companies in Kodiak and Cape Cod. Click here to send her an email.

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