JUNEAU (AP) -- Fishermen in Southeast Alaska are concerned the state will reduce hatchery production in an effort to boost wild chum stocks in western Alaska.
Gov. Tony Knowles last month signed a salmon disaster declaration for the Yukon, Kuskokwim and Norton Sound watersheds. At the time, he called for a reduction in hatchery production.
''That's going to have a shocking impact and may not restore the runs he wants to restore,'' said Linnea Osborne of Juneau, whose family fishes commercially.
Hatchery chums have been a big boost to commercial fishermen in Southeast, making up about 70 percent of their chum catch last year, according to the state Department of Fish and Game.
Production cuts could close hatcheries that owe the state money for construction and early operating costs, hatchery operators said.
Jon Carter, executive director of the Douglas Island Pink and Chum hatchery in Juneau, said reduced production would drive them out of business if the state refused to forgive debt.
Western Alaskans have noticed wild fish have been getting smaller and their numbers have declined substantially, said Myron Naneng, president of the Bethel-based Association of Village Council Presidents.
Some Western Alaskans think the burgeoning numbers of hatchery fish, especially chums, are competing with wild fish for food in the ocean. Chums feed for several years in the ocean before returning to fresh water to spawn.
''There are some indications they are feeding on the same commons,'' said Dan Senecal-Albrecht, executive director of the Yukon River Drainage Fisheries Association.
He cited a survey of salmon incidentally caught in the Bering Sea groundfish fisheries that showed about a quarter of the salmon were from Southeast and Prince William Sound.
Hatchery chums are doing well in the ocean. In recent years, hatcheries have released about twice as many chum fry as in 1990. But about seven times more hatchery adults returned from the ocean than in 1990, according to state figures.
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