The state has issued a breathtaking report titled "Alaska Department of Fish and Game Internal Review of Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corporation."
It details all manner of problems with the Cordova-based operator of some of the world’s largest fish hatcheries.
The problems include chronic conflict with Fish and Game staff, improper harvest and processing of salmon to cover hatchery expenses, and an apparent disregard for "straying" of hatchery fish intermingling with and possibly damaging wild salmon runs.
The report doesn’t reserve its intense criticism solely for PWSAC (locals pronounce the acronym pizz-wack). It also faults Fish and Game officials themselves for futile attempts to appease recalcitrant hatchery managers by looking the other way on criminal offenses.
If even half this stuff is true, Alaskans — perhaps legislators — are going to be alarmed, angry and asking tough questions.
Now, here’s a really important caveat. Some if not all of these problems are somewhat dated. That’s because the "internal review" was conducted back in 2006.
Since that time, PWSAC compliance has improved, says an epilogue on page 26 of the 207-page document.
However, "the relationship remains strained," with the hatchery operator still not communicating well with Fish and Game and still not addressing the issue of straying salmon.
PWSAC is a private, nonprofit corporation founded in 1974 that runs major salmon hatcheries around Prince William Sound. It’s an integral part of the commercial fishing industry, producing millions of pink, chum and sockeye salmon that make big money for seiners and gillnetters.
It’s partly because PWSAC is so vital to the fishing industry that Fish and Game hasn’t been able to crack down harder on its many permit violations and generally stubborn and uncooperative attitude, the internal review says.
Here’s a few select items from the report:
• PWSAC’s general manager "has created an antagonistic relationship with every commercial fisheries biologist in the Cordova office for the past 5 years. That hostile atmosphere has led, in part, to the high turn-over rate of department staff in the Cordova office."
• PWSAC has more than $25 million in state loans, and plenty of fish to cover costs. Yet hatchery managers have a record of "multiple cost recovery failures" and had to turn to the state for an additional $3 million loan in 2004.
• State biologists have a legitimate interest in what goes on in PWSAC hatcheries, and wanted to see PWSAC’s fish culture manuals. But the hatchery operator called them "proprietary" and refused to hand them over. Result: "The department has no knowledge of how PWSAC operates many aspects of their programs."
• The straying of hatchery chums on a large scale into wild salmon streams, instead of homing to sites where they were released as smolts, is "one of the most serious problems" with PWSAC. Such straying is a violation of state regulations, yet PWSAC has refused to participate in projects to assess it.
Deckboss has not contacted Fish and Game or PWSAC to see if these problems persist.
All I can say is that the department has released the internal review with an August 2009 date on the cover and the epilogue saying "the relationship remains strained."
While the review itself was news to me, I was aware of some of the state’s PWSAC concerns in late 2006, when I wrote an Anchorage Daily News article headlined "State slams hatcheries."
Hatchery managers contended then that many of the problems were either overblown or out of date.
"We’re very anxious to sit down with the commissioner and talk through some of these issues," PWSAC’s general manager, Dave Reggiani, told me at the time.
My guess right now, however, is that with the public release of this internal review, Fish and Game still has a serious bone to pick with PWSAC.
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