Hatchery egg take levels still a volatile topic

Egg take issues at fish hatcheries are back on the agenda for the Alaska Board of Fisheries work session in Anchorage Oct. 15-16, where a decision will be made on scheduling related agenda change requests for upcoming meetings.

After consideration of dozens of comments for and against the currently permitted egg takes at the Valdez Fisheries Development Association’s Solomon Gulch Hatchery, and a lengthy presentation from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the fisheries board must decide whether two ACRs meet the criteria to move forward for reasons of fisheries conservation.

While approval of increases or decreases in hatchery egg take is the prerogative of ADF&G managers, the fisheries board has limited authority to modify hatchery permits regarding egg take, and that is the subject of ACRs from the Kenai River Fishermen’s Association and former fisheries board member Virgil Umphenour of Fairbanks.

KRSA’s ACR 1 contends that the millions of pink salmon released from hatcheries in Prince William Sound appear to be jeopardizing marine survival of wild stocks of sockeye and Chinook salmon bound for rivers and streams flowing into the North Gulf Coast of Alaska. KRSA also contends that recent scientific publications provide cause for great concern over the biological impacts associated with the release of large numbers of hatchery salmon into the North Pacific Ocean, including the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska.

Umphenour, in ACR2, urges a statewide cap on private non-profit salmon hatchery egg take capacity at 75 percent of the level permitted in 2000.
Both KRSA and Umphenour want their ACRs considered sooner rather than later by the fisheries board.

Given what they consider benefits of the currently approved egg take at the Solomon Gulch Hatchery, several entities, including Trident Seafoods and Silver Bay Seafoods, and a number of individual harvesters support the status quo and said so in comments received by the fisheries board by the Oct. 3 deadline.

“Since its inception, the hatchery program has been built upon science-based management, a transparent public process, and a regulatory framework that prioritizes protection of wild salmon populations,” said Trident spokesman Shannon Carroll. “…the precautionary principle is embedded throughout the hatchery management framework. Adherence to this principle is a key factor in the program’s success over the past forty years,” he said.

Silver Bay Seafoods recommends that the board deny KRSA’s request for an ACR and take no action on ACR2, wrote Silver Bay’s Tommy Sheridan.

“Hatcheries contribute to economic stability in the Prince William Sound region and Prince William Sound hatchery stocks are utilized by sportfish, subsistence and commercial users,” wrote Gerald McCune, president of Cordova District Fishermen United. “The hatchery program in Prince William Sound was created with the intent to protect fisheries during weaker wild salmon runs. Without hatchery operations this year, with the Copper River District closed for much of the season, the gillnet and seine fleets in Area E would have had very little opportunity to fish, and the impacts to our community would have been profound and devastating.”

Decisions regarding hatchery production should remain with the regional planning team and ADF&G commissioner, McCune wrote.

Cathy Renfeldt, executive director of the Cordova Chamber of Commerce, spoke to economic and social benefits of the current hatchery program, creating local seafood processing jobs, fisheries business tax, and increased commerce and seafood industry investment.

“In addition, the enhancement of the sport fishery by hatcheries provides significant fishing opportunity for coho salmon through eastern Prince William Sound, and this sport fishing activity significantly increases summer tourism by attracting visitors to Cordova to sport fish in eastern Prince William Sound,” she wrote. Local commerce further benefits through sale of sporting goods, custom processing, lodging, fuel, harbor moorage, float plane charters, fishing charters and other purchases, she said.

Thea Thomas, secretary of the board of directors of the Copper River/Prince William Sound Marketing Association, noted that CR/PWSMA is the regional seafood development association collecting a 1 percent salmon marketing tax, and whose mission it is to boost the value of Area E salmon for its members and the region. “Hatchery production salmon are a vital source of sport, personal use and subsistence salmon,” she wrote.

The Native Village of Eyak, in its written comments, said that references to “scientific research studies” cited by KRSA contradict data that the multi-year, multi-million dollar Alaska Hatchery Research Project has provided, “showing natural genetic diversity across Prince William Sound indicating no evidence of hatchery fish interbreeding with wild fish.

“Moreover wild pink salmon stocks have seen record returns, even this past season when the fishery was overall very poor, locations such as Beartrap Bay in Port Gravina. Tribal elders observed an abundant return. This evidence suggests that Alaska’s hatcheries are providing harvestable stock enhancement and preserving wild stocks,” NVE officials said.

A complete list of all ACRS and public comments to be considered by the fisheries board at its Anchorage work session is posted online at http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=fisheriesboard.meetinginfo&date=10-15-2018&meeting=anchorage

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Margaret Bauman is a veteran Alaska journalist focused on covering fisheries and environmental issues. Bauman has been writing for The Cordova Times since 2010. You can reach her at mbauman@thecordovatimes.com.