Fisheries Board Takes Up Proposal to Lower Salmon Production at Alaska Hatcheries

Image: Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Extensive public testimony is anticipated during the Alaska Board of Fisheries (ABF) meeting in Homer, which concludes Dec. 1, on a proposal to greatly reduce salmon production at Alaska hatcheries.

Final action isn’t expected until 2024.

Proposition 43 would amend the Cook Inlet Salmon Enhancement Allocation Plan to reduce hatchery production to 25% of the year 2000 production, as was promised in 2000. The proposition, introduced by the Fairbanks Fish and Game Advisory Committee, contends that there’s an over-production of hatchery pink salmon threatening wild Alaska salmon stocks.

Art Nelson, executive director of the fisheries board, said the ABF would receive public testimony on Proposition 43 at Homer and may discuss it to some extent during committee work, but not vote on it.

“The board will also hear public testimony on it during the Upper Cook Inlet (UCI) meeting in March, discuss it in committee at that meeting, and then vote on it during the UCI meeting,” Nelson said.

The Upper Cook Inlet meeting is scheduled to run from Feb. 23 through March 6, 2024 in Anchorage.

A similar proposal to amend hatchery regulations for Kodiak to 25% of the year 2000 production is expected to be before the board at Kodiak Jan. 9-12, and is to be voted on at that meeting because it would affect only the Kodiak fisheries.

Lower Cook Inlet and Upper Cook Inlet are technically both part of Area H, Cook Inlet, so the board’s action on the Kodiak proposal could provide insight into how the board may ultimately vote on the Cook Inlet proposal.

Among opponents of Proposition 43 in Cordova is Cordova District Fishermen United (CDFU).  “Hatchery Regional Planning Teams members include representatives from Alaska Department of Fish and Game and hold strong backgrounds in the science behind hatchery production, as well as a thorough understanding of local ecologies and regional fisheries,” CDFU Executive Director Jess Rude said in written testimony.

Authors of Proposition 43 said in their proposal that it is one strictly for conservation, to hold the hatcheries to their 2000 promise.

“The board should require a substantial reduction in production, so the wild fish don’t have to compete as noted by hundreds of science papers, with hatchery fish for food,” the proposal said in part.

Salmon fisheries researcher Daniel Schindler of the University of Washington’s School of Aquatic and Fishery Science has studied Alaska’s salmon fisheries for over two decades.

“Pink salmon are dumped into the ocean with the assumption that they don’t negatively impact with anything,” he said. “We have known for at least 10, probably 20 years, that pink salmon compete with other species in the ecosystem.”

As numbers of hatchery salmon have ramped up, “we have seen negative impact on other fish and the effect of pinks on the growth of wild fish,” he stated, adding that with the last big heat wave productivity of salmon declined.

“Most of the north Pacific salmon did not do well and pinks are taking a bigger piece of a smaller pie,” he said.