Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Hatchery showdown in Cordova

Deckboss wishes he could be in Cordova tomorrow to hear all the hatchery talk.

The Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corp. (PWSAC), a private, nonprofit operator of some of the world's largest fish hatcheries, wants to make millions more salmon each year, which could mean millions more dollars for commercial fishermen.

The hatchery operator would create additional fish by upping its "egg take," raising more fingerlings for release into the sea. A year or three later, the adult salmon would return home, many to be captured in nets.

At 9 a.m. tomorrow in Cordova, a panel called the Prince William Sound Regional Planning Team will meet to consider the proposed expansion.

The planning team makes recommendations to Alaska's fish and game commissioner, who has the last word.

Going into the meeting, it looks bad for PWSAC.

Here's a 51-page memo from Department of Fish and Game biologists generally opposing the hatchery expansion.

Among other concerns, they say the straying of hatchery-born pink, chum and sockeye salmon into local streams already might "pose an unacceptable risk to wild salmon stocks."

They cite studies that found pink salmon display "competitive dominance," grabbing food such as zooplankton and squid and thus hurting other species of salmon from as far away as Bristol Bay and Puget Sound.

What's more, it appears juvenile hatchery pinks can prey on herring juveniles, helping retard recovery of Prince William Sound's famously depressed herring stocks.

"While this hypothesis needs to be explored with additional research, the rapid decline of herring stocks in PWS did occur shortly after a large ramp-up in production of hatchery pink salmon," the Fish and Game memo says.

Because large numbers of hatchery pinks and chums are "likely having a detrimental impact to wild stocks of salmon and herring," the department's research and management biologists are advising against increased production of these fish, which are the main hatchery species.

OK, so that's the Fish and Game perspective.

At the Regional Planning Team meeting, I expect we'll hear a considerably different perspective from PWSAC.

It'll also be interesting to hear where the commercial fishing industry stands on this. Most Alaska fishermen I know are mother hens when it comes to the health of wild salmon stocks.

According to PWSAC, the time is right to boost production.

"The global salmon market has been steadily expanding over the past several years and Prince William Sound's local processing capacity has increased significantly on numerous fronts," PWSAC said in permit alteration requests to Fish and Game.

The operator said fish resulting from the proposed expansion "should be easily absorbed" in the marketplace.

No comments: