Johnson: F&G don’t hatch sockeye in inlet

Dear Editor:

 

A recent letter claims “our” Fish and Game (F&G) hatches “millions” of sockeye salmon and “dumps” them in the ocean. The writer said out-migrating sockeye compete with out-migrating kings for baby crabs to eat and the kings are starving.

Fact is, F&G don’t hatch any sockeye in Cook Inlet and haven’t done so for many years. After statehood Alaska focused on rebuilding salmon stocks. Building hatcheries was part of their strategy and by 1983 the State owned and operated about 20 hatcheries, which produced five species of salmon. Political winds blew out of Anchorage in the mid 80s and the state started closing hatcheries that complimented commercial fisheries. By 1999 the State was down to operating only two or three hatcheries, none of which stocked salmon primarily for commercial fisheries.

Many State hatcheries were taken over by non-profits, like Cook Inlet Aquaculture Assoc. (CIAA). Funding shifted from state dollars to commercial fishery dollars, which has some fragrance of fairness. In 1990 there were about 48 fish hatcheries operating in Alaska. Today there are about 35 hatcheries operating. Cook Inlet had several hatcheries close: Crooked Creek, Eklutna, Big Lake, Tutka Bay and Port Graham, come to mind.

Some credit should be give to the State for its efforts at salmon enhancement, and kudos could also be offered to CIAA. The state currently stocks king salmon in Deception Creek 150,000; Eklutna River 160,000; Ship Creek 315,000; Crooked Creek 105,000 (210,000 by 2014); Ninilchik River 50,000; Homer Spit 210,000; Halibut Cove 64,000 (105,000 by 2014); Seldovia Lagoon 64,000 (105,000 by 2014); Resurrection Bay 132,000 (210,000 by 2014).

In the early 1980s F&G planted as many as 17 million sockeye in Tustumena Lake. In that same era king salmon production was very good and continued to be good for many years. A reduction in copepods (bugs sockeye eat) was observed at Tustumena Lake in years immediately after the 17 million fish were stocked. In response, the stocking goal was reduced to six million. In 1993 the project was assumed by CIAA until 2004 when it was discontinued.

A small CIAA sockeye project continues at Hidden Lake, where it was a larger F&G project in the early 1980s. Cook Inlet sockeye projects at Packers Lake, Eklutna, Big Lake, and Chelatna Lake are among those suspended. CIAA still has sockeye projects at Resurrection Bay, Kachemak Bay, and other small projects. To me, it seems very hard to connect the decline in king salmon production with a rise in sockeye stocking levels.

When considering king salmon production it might be a good idea for fishermen to examine their own fishery for ways to increase king salmon escapement. Gary Hollier voluntarily fished 29-mesh deep nets this year. The legal limit is 45-mesh deep. Chris Avery released king salmon into a holding pen until the fishing period closed. My own Selective Harvest Module showed promise.

What is your group doing?

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