By Casey Campbell and Mike Wells
For The Cordova Times
When the Good Friday earthquake shook Alaska in 1964, the damage wasn’t confined to buildings and homes. For the fishing towns of Cordova and Valdez, the fertile salmon spawning grounds of Prince William Sound all but dried up.
The people of Cordova created the Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corp. The nonprofit transformed an old cannery at the Port San Juan into a prolific wild salmon hatchery. As U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens recalled in the late 1970s, “In desperation, the community of Cordova banded together to build a major fish hatchery, which was one of the greatest community projects I have ever witnessed in Alaska.”
Around the same time, the Alaska Legislature introduced the Fisheries Rehabilitation, Enhancement, and Development Division within the Alaska Department of Fish & Game, and funding was provided to the department to construct hatchery facilities across the state and to staff them. Well through the 1980s, FRED and the Sport Fish Division collaborated on a number of projects statewide to improve opportunities for commercial and sport users.
Shortly after opening the hatchery in 1974, PWSAC recorded the largest salmon run of any hatchery in the world. The Alaska seafood industry was once again working to meet the demands of the global marketplace and support the coastal economies of Prince William Sound.
In 1980, Valdez fishing and business leaders founded the Valdez Fisheries Development Association Inc. (VFDA) and built the Solomon Gulch Hatchery in Port Valdez in an effort to support the Valdez economy. The Solomon Gulch Hatchery would later become a consistent producer of early run pink salmon and Coho salmon, extending the common property fishery as well as significantly expanding sport fishing opportunities in Valdez.
Today, Alaska’s economy is thriving due to the foresight of many before us, and today many users depend on our fisheries enhancement programs. Hatcheries generate hundreds of millions of dollars in annual economic output, from commercial, sport and subsistence fishing revenue.
Now, we must work together and rely on sound science. So, grab your pole, grab your net and help us carry on a tradition older than Alaska itself.
Casey Campbell is the CEO of Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corp., and Mike Wells, is the CEO of Valdez Fisheries Development Association Inc. Learn more about salmon hatcheries statewide at salmonhatcheriesforak.org.