By STEVEN WEBER
Valdez Star 

Kenai challenges pink salmon egg-take numbers at Solomon Gulch Hatchery

City councils in Valdez and Cordova pass resolutions supporting VFDA's roe plans

 

Tony Gorman photo

You can learn more about VFDAs Solomon Gulch Hatchery by taking a walk around the facility on Dayville Rd. The hatchery recently added high-tech interactive displays for the public.

The Solomon Gulch Hatchery - the largest pink salmon hatchery in North America - recently came under scrutiny from the Kenai River Sport Fishing Association.

The association filed an emergency petition with the Alaska Board of Fisheries to halt a planned increase of pink salmon eggs at Solomon Gulch Hatchery from 250 million eggs to 270 million.

"The lobbying group is concerned about pink salmon straying into lower Cook inlet," said Ricky Gease, executive director of the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, during a radio interview in Kenai.

Gease is also concerned that pink salmon may be out competing other salmon species and that a growing body of scientific research supports his conclusions.

According to a study published on last April in the Journal of Marine and Coastal Fisheries, the number of pink, chum and sockeye salmon have been more abundant during the past 25 years than any time since 1925. However, this abundance is not necessarily a good thing, according to the study.


"There is growing evidence this high abundance of salmon, especially pink salmon, is impacting the offshore ecosystem of the North Pacific and Bering Sea," said Dr. Gregg Ruggerone, lead author of the study and a scientist at Natural Resources Consultants Inc. "These impacts may include the decline of higher trophic species of salmon, such as Chinook (King Salmon) in Alaska, the size, age, and abundance of which has declined in recent decades even though their habitats are highly intact."

Additionally, there are claims that pink salmon have been straying in higher abundance and this has caused concern at the Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association's Headquarters.

Nancy Hillstrand, a Sadie Cove resident said during public comments at the regional planning team's meeting she was very concerned about the straying issue and that fish and game regulators should prioritize wild fish health over hatchery production.

"We have portfolio stocks that are being desecrated down in lower Cook inlet by Prince William Sound Fish and this needs to be fixed and stopped," Hillstrand said. "We're raising too many fish."

Statewide, biologists have pointed the finger at ocean conditions as the cause of poor salmon returns.

Public comment was requested by the Alaska Board of Fisheries through July 9 in regards to the petition filed by the Kenai River Sportsman's Association. During this public comment both the City Council of Cordova and Valdez passed resolutions supporting the increase of 20 million additional pink salmon eggs.

The resolution from the City of Cordova's Council which was passed on June 27, stated that Prince William Sound Salmon hatcheries benefit both Cordova and Valdez by providing a sustainable and direct economic and social benefit. This includes the creation of jobs, tax revenue and increased commerce. The hatchery also enhances sport fishing by providing significant fish opportunities for Coho Salmon which leads to increased summer tourism by attracting visitors to Cordova and Valdez. The sport fishing enhancement provided by the Valdez Fisheries Development Association (VFDA) is substantially funded through the sale of cost recovery pink salmon.

During the July 3, Valdez City Council meeting, when a similar resolution was unanimously passed supporting the increase of pink salmon eggs, Mike Wells, Executive Director of VFDA said, "when we look at this 20 million egg increase, the reality of what that is going to mean is about two tenths of 1 percent" of an increase to the global pink salmon population. The result for Prince William Sound would be roughly 1.5 million more pink salmon returning annually to spawn.

Wells also stated that the request to increase the number of pink salmon eggs was not done as a response to the lower salmon runs this year.

"We have been working on it since 2014," he said. "We phased it in over a period of four years and this is the last year of it."

In 2016 the number of pink salmon eggs was increased from 230 to 250 million; the first increase in twenty-five years.

The permitting process for salmon hatchery programs - such as the one at VFDA - use a public process that employs "strong scientific methodology" according to the resolutions passed by Cordova and Valdez, and is built upon sound and sustainable fishery policies that intend to protect wild salmon populations.

"The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has reviewed this request and determined an emergency does not exist," Wells said. "The request was fully vetted and was reasonable and sustainable."

Due to the low numbers of salmon this year - which may or may not be influenced by the level of Prince William Sound pink salmon - the Bristol Bay Native Association, which relies on cash income from salmon and subsistence, submitted an emergency request to Governor Walker. The petition stated without the return of the salmon, "they will not be able to purchase home heating fuel, electricity, gasoline, propane and basic food necessities. The impact of the failed sockeye return is beyond the local communities ability to sustain their economic stability and subsistence way of life."

Note: The State Board of Fisheries Voted on the increase on July 17, which is right after the Valdez Star went to print.

 

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