KRSA fails to halt pink salmon hatchery production in Prince William Sound

Published: Jul. 17, 2018 at 10:30 PM AKDT
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The Alaska Board of Fisheries voted 4-3 Tuesday against an emergency petition to limit the number of pink salmon eggs allowed to be taken and incubated by hatcheries in the Prince William Sound.

The Kenai River Sport Fishing Association recommended in the petition that Prince William Sound commercial fisheries halt the taking of 20 million eggs to ease the burden on wild salmon populations.

They argued that more pink salmon in an already unhealthy fishery causes the fish to have to share finite food sources.

Ricky Gease, KRSA Executive Director, said high numbers of hatchery pink salmon are known to stray from the Sound into Lower Kenai. But the Department of Fish and Game wasn’t convinced of the emergent nature of Gease’s claim, saying Prince William Sound hatchery pinks straying into Lower Cook Inlet streams could boost the productivity of wild salmon stocks.

Gease said Tuesday’s emergency meeting shows that fishing is in a state-wide crisis.

“They’re just not showing up. So everybody is feeling frustrated. You know, where are the fish?” Gease said. “It’s very disruptive to communities. We have Chignik here. There’s no fish there. People have no income and they’re trying to figure out how to deal with it.”

The Bristol Bay Native Association and the Chignik Fish and Game Advisory Committee each submitted petitions requesting the Alaska Board of Fisheries adopt emergency regulations to affect the Chignik sockeye salmon escapement.

These would include closing or restricting commercial salmon fisheries in the South Peninsula Management Area to protect Chignik-bound sockeye salmon.

The board voted 5-2 in favor of both petitions, and the people of Chignik say they’re relieved after a season of devastatingly low returns.

“Certainly, we’re thankful for the steps the board took today in the sharing of the conservation responsibility, and we are hopeful that our salmon will get a chance to reach our rivers and meet our escapement goals,” Chignik spokesperson Marit Carlson-Van Dort said.

Board member Fritz Johnson, a commercial fisherman in Bristol Bay, said Chignik escapement levels need to be managed to ensure healthy fisheries in years to come.

Gease said there is no state-wide policy for hatchery fish interactions with wild stocks, and he will continue to educate the public on potential damages from those interactions until the Board of Fisheries has its hatchery committee meeting in the fall.