Monday, August 31, 2009

A hatchery operator gone astray?

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.


Anonymous said...

Ever since migetman Dave Reggiani took over as general manager things went down the tubes. Low pay for seasonals, bad management and he leaves a bad taste in peoples mouths in Cordova.

Anonymous said...

What's the problem if you have straying and mingle wild and hatchery stocks upwards of 70%, instead of 2% per the regulations?

If the hatchery can just flood the wild stock, then less wild stock, then more dependence on the hatchery for the long term profit of its sharecroppers.

Shouldn't this be the goal anyway - erode the wild stocks over time while continuing to pump out hatchery fish - as long as you can label a hatchery fish as a "wild" fish, who cares if wild or hatchery - the public sure doesn't know and those who do know certaining are not showing much concern.

copper river wild is such a marketing success - why turn over the apple cart just because a couple hundred or thousand or million hatches stray over the years.

I mean, without some money from the general fund to do some long term extended genetic studies stretching out over the next few decades, I mean we probably can't point out a single thing wrong with the hatchery and wild fish dancing with each other in the streams across PWS.

So sweep it under the rug like it should be and leave it as a non-issue.

But the small potatoes issue is why is there any common property fishing going on when there is an outstanding $25 million loan to the state and coming back for $3 million more?

Anonymous said...

Dave has screwed over a hundred or so employees because of his disease of Napoleon complex and we all past employees have one thing to say to you. (s*&%# MY D*&@)because you can reach little man.

Anonymous said...

This is easy to fix. ADFG obviously wants a new PWSAC manager and PWSAC should give them one. Most folk in CDV don't realize this but being belligerent with agencies isn't a long-term strategy for success. The BOD should send their most sincere fellow over with his hat in hand to apologize profusely.

Anonymous said...

pwsac has had a long history of very quick turnover at the top level of management. reggiani in spite of his faults has at least brought some stability to the corporation and a level of trust with the board that was missing for a long time.
the corp has always had a culture of contention and disagreement between the employees at the sites and the corp offices and user groups as well as with the state.
overall and historically it's been a pretty dysfunctional setup all the way around...with everyone pointing fingers at each other.

Anonymous said...

The former state now privatised hatchery system has contributed to the salmon glut, therebye lowering the price for wild caught fish(especially wild pinks and chums). They have also created a new user group in the form of all the biologists, technicians etc. who are funded by the cost recovery system. There is also an ongoing problem of mixed stocks (hatchery fish mixing with wild fish)during the wild harvest. This forces fish managers to require the hatchery fish be caught close to their point of origin, resulting in lower quality spawned out product. This, in turn, lowers the price for all Alaska salmon.
Let us not forget these hatcheries were originally funded by the sate for over 250 million dollars statewide and then turned over to these private corporations for ten bucks apiece. The intent was to help the commercial fisheries, not create a new user group.

sockeye sam said...

The sad part about the ADFG vs. PWSAC conflict is that it could have all be avoided if PWSSC had acted as a responsible corporate citizen.

When the corporation was formed in the early 1970's their business plan called for cooperative efforts on fisheries management research. Research dollars would be generated through the hatchery program that would help ADFG with management.

The refusal of the corporation to adequately fund efforts to better understand genetics and straying, and their focus on volume production instead of collaborative science based management resulted in the conflicts outlined in the ADFG report.

ADFG contributed to the current situation. By succumbing to political pressures resulting from PWSAC's close ties to elected officials, they failed to address deficiencies in the way PWSAC conducted business.

We should all be outraged. The hatcheries have a responsibility to meet the rules and regulations that govern their operations. They need to adequately fund research and monitoring programs that contribute to answering questions about impacts of hatcheries on wild fish stocks.

If you substituted "oil" for fish, and EXXON for PWSAC in the ADFG internal review document fishermen would be outraged. Lets see what happens here.

Anonymous said...

PWSAC currently contributes almost $1million to ADFG to support management and study such things as straying each year. If there is a concern about genetic purity it was compromised way before PWSAC with the state hatchery program. If there is a Napoleon still around it would the collective ADFG folks in Cordova who signed the review. They are desperate to demonstrate their power over all aspects of the commercial fishing industry. Don't believe this one sided document written by well paid underachievers.

Anonymous said...

It is a sad day when the Alaska Department of Fish and Game will publish information that is incorrect, highly subjective and non-peer reviewed and distribute it to the public as scientific information. Take for example, the so called high turn-over rate in the past 5 years. Did it mention that one ADF&G staff was forced to resign for getting into a bar fight over his management decisions with one of the local fisherman? Did it mention that one took another job because he got so airsick doing stream surveys he could not make stream counts? Or how about the one who took an advancement to Anchorage. How can that be painted as a hostile PWSAC environment causing the high turn over rate? Sounds more like and excuse to cover ADF&G's dirty laundry.

The $3 million dollar loan was not from a cost recovery failure as portrayed. PWSAC has a full year's of operating of cash in the bank for any cost recovery failure. The loan was simply a business decision. The interest rate on the loan was less than what PWSAC could make on their savings investments so they actually could make money on the loan which could allow them to put more fish into the fishermen's nets. Business 101 must not have been in the ADF&G job description for the authors.
As far as fish culture manuals go, PWSAC is a private industry not a public agency. Fish culture techniques are fairly basic for anyone who has some background and education in the field. Every facility is different and has some specific operations though. The PWSAC manual is the old FRED Division (remember them) fish culture manual with some specifics on water flows and incubator cleaning. The best way to see how a hatchery operates is to visit it and get a first hand look. If you do not understand fish culture, reading the manual probably is not going to help. How many Cordova ADF&G biologists have been to a PWSAC hatchery in the last 5 years and how long were they there? You should not be surprised at the answer - 1 day trip for one Cordova biologist in 2009, and 3 biologist in 2008 for 1 hour all at the same time. Not much interest from ADF&G for their hot button issue seems to me?
The internal review would have the public believe that PWSAC is trying to discourage looking at strays. If you actually try to discover the truth, you will find that PWSAC suported financially the collection of samples to get an idea on the amount of straying. PWSAC has financially supported the straying studies for years with the idea that the department would work with them on ways to reduce straying. What has happened now is the Department is using staying as a club to hatchery bash instead of looking at new ideas on managing a robust fishery.
Most of what is in the internal review is false, misleading and one-sided. It was instigated by a new breed of "preservationist" managers looking to bash hatcheries or to settle some grudge. What they failed to mention was that PWSAC got all of their original broodstock from local stocks in Prince William Sound as directed by the ADF&G Genetics and Pathology departments. I guess following ADF&G direction doesn't count for much when ADF&G wants to point fingers.

Anonymous said...

There is no doubt that the problems with Pizzwack are from the midget Reggie. Please replace the unqualified man in charge with someone who cares what pizzwack is capable of. This is not a joke anymore, the HALF BILLION pinks and chums released each year need to be accounted for. The ocean, and the biodiversity of our long-term stocks DOES NOT CARE about the trivialities of our personal conflicts. Do what is right for the long term and health of our returns! We all know that there are too many people in the Cordova office just waiting to suck up their retirement funds and be done.

Anonymous said...

ADF&G can't blame the high turnover rate of fish biologists on a hostile work environment "created" by PWSAC. The obvious problem is the high level of incompetence, local inexperience, and stubborness we have seen in the Cordova office in the past several years.