On the agenda for Tuesday night’s regularly scheduled Borough Assembly meeting is a joint resolution with the Petersburg City Council supporting the development of more fish hatcheries in the region. Mayor Jeremy Maxand helped write the resolution along with members of the local fishing community. “There is a desire to see the development of a new hatchery in southeast to expand the available number of fish for harvest, whether it be for commercial or sport fishing. We thought that a joint resolution and letter from both Wrangell and Petersburg would be a good way to express that interest.” Trident Seafoods also wrote a letter of support.
However, Alaska Department of Fish & Game Private Non-Profit Hatchery Coordinator Sam Rabung said starting a new hatchery is a complicated process that has not recently been embarked on. Applications for new hatcheries are rare, and the state has not opened a new one since the 1990s. Part of the reason is because of a lack of locations to place hatchery fish that will not hurt natural salmon stocks.
“Most of the spots that were easy to identify as having good water supply, a good segregated terminal harvest area, and no significant stocks within the vicinity in that terminal harvest area, have been used. They’ve been taken up,” he explained. According to state regulation and management practice, a hatchery should not be put into a place where non-hatchery fish would likely be harvested in large numbers along with hatchery fish.
Another problem with opening a new hatchery is finding a location to breed the young fish. “Our existing facilities statewide are at capacity,” Rabung said. “There isn’t enough water left at the existing facilities to produce a lot more fish. So it would probably take another facility to handle any increased production.”
If a large enough need for a new hatchery is identified, a location is found, and a plan is developed, state regulations state that the new hatchery cannot negatively impact natural salmon runs. Rabung said the state has learned from other hatchery mistakes. For example, the hatchery fish all come from the same stock as the non-hatchery fish, not from foreign fish.
“By using that local stock, we’ve theoretically reduced that negative effect of straying.”
Straying is when salmon return to a different location than their original home streams in order to breed. The state is starting a long-term study to look at how the genetics of hatchery fish are impacting the genetics of the natural run, but Rabung said the data is still being gathered and results would not be available for many years.
Thus far, forty years into fish hatchery development, Rabung cites a higher return of wild fish as evidence that the hatchery is positively impacting the overall run productivity.
The hatcheries resolution and other borough matters will be discussed at 7 p.m. on Tuesday at City Hall.