The Cook Inlet Regional Planning team met last week to tweak and approve plans for six Cook Inlet hatcheries for the upcoming season.
Among the plans are those for three hatcheries currently operated by the aquaculture association — Eklutna, Trail Lakes and Tutka Bay; two operated by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game — William Jack Hernandez Sport Fish hatchery and Fort Richardson Hatchery; and one operated by the Port Graham Hatchery Corporation.
While plans have yet to be finalized, the Port Graham Hatchery has been offered to the aquaculture association and plans are in place to make repairs and upgrades to the facility in the coming year, said Gary Fandrei, executive director of the aquaculture association.
“We’re in the process of negotiating that right now, our plans are to take it over unless there’s some big obstacle that we’re not aware of,” Fandrei said.
The Port Graham Hatchery corporation used the hatchery for pink and red salmon. Fandrei said the aquaculture association plans to use it primarily as a pink salmon facility to supplement the run to Port Graham.
Fandrei said all of the hatcheries are in place to supplement runs that are not in “good shape.”
“What we try to do is fill in the gap, because a natural run has ups and downs. We try to fill in the down years from a socio-economic perspective for communities,” Fandrei said. “If everything is fine, we’re a very small percentage of what comes back to Cook Inlet, but when you have those years where there’s low returns — on whatever stock — then we have more of a significant impact in terms of supplying fish to the users so they at least have some ability to keep operating and meet customer needs.”
Management plans for the six hatcheries, called AMPs, must be filed each year. Regional planning teams recommend the AMPs which will need final approval from Fish and Game Commisionner Cora Campbell.
Among the discussion on the AMPs was clarification on special harvest areas which the aquaculture association uses for cost recovery.
While special harvest areas are designated for cost recovery harvests only, Fandrei said, the aquaculture association also uses them to collect brood stock.
“All of the fish we’re talking about, in terms of brood stock collection and special harvest, are fish that were produced by the aquaculture association,” Fandrei said.
He said when salmon returns were projected to be low, the aquaculture association was not able to meet its brood stock or cost recovery goals and had asked the Department of Fish and Game to restrict the sport fishery in those areas.
Fandrei said these were situations during which the aquaculture association would shut down its cost recovery harvest because it was not meeting brood stock goals.
The aquaculture association has struggled to collect enough brood stock from Bear Lake, near Seward.
“We get a significant amount of our (sockeye) eggs from fish that go into that lake,” Fandrei said.
The aquaculture association asked Fish and Game to manage the fishery for the upper end of its escapement goal so it could collect enough fish for brood stock.
However, while the commercial fish division has the authority to restrict commercial fishing in that area, sport fish division does not, Fandrei said.
“Sport fish division has the ability to allow you to hit the escapement goal, but they don’t have the ability to manage for the upper end of the escapement goal.”
The team also heard from the Alaska Energy Authority on the proposed Susitna Dam project and from Fish and Game on its invasive northern pike control projects in Southcentral Alaska.
The group also discussed the aquaculture association’s proposal to the Board of Fisheries that would put a hatchery management plan into regulation and clarify management questions.
Fandrei said the final AMPs had been written and would go through several people at Fish and Game before being forwarded to the commissioner for approval.
“We ended up — I think — in a position where the department was satisfied with the language and we were satisfied with the language,” Fandrei said. “I think it’s important to recognize that the hatchery plans that are put together — whether by the aquaculture association or a private corporation — (are) a public process, where the public has a chance to come in and make comments and influence some of these plans if they so wish.”
Rashah McChesney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.