City Council may wade into battle over pink salmon hatcheries

Jun 29, 2018

A pink salmon swims through Beluga Slough.
Credit Aaron Bolton, KBBI News

The Homer City Council is set to consider whether or not it wants to wade into an ongoing battle between salmon hatcheries and their critics during a special meeting Monday.

Council members Heath Smith and Shelly Erickson are sponsoring a resolution asking the Alaska Board of Fisheries to delay its consideration of an emergency petition in July.

The petition aims to prevent the Valdez Fisheries Development Association from collecting an additional 20 million pink salmon eggs at its Solomon Gulch Hatchery in Prince William Sound. The hatchery association was permitted for a similar increase in 2016 and plans to move forward with its plans for a larger egg-take this summer.

The Kenai River Sport Fishing Association filed the petition. It also filed a similar request back May asking ADF&G Commissioner Sam Cotton to prevent the hatchery from collecting the additional eggs, but Cotton denied the request.  

“Now we’re requesting that the board itself exercise its own statutory authority,” the association’s Executive Director Ricky Gease said, “and first, issue an emergency finding and second, use its statutory authority to deny the egg-take at this time.”

Gease said the lobbying group is concerned about hatchery fish from Prince William Sound straying into lower Cook Inlet. Fish and Game has found that Prince William Sound hatchery pinks are straying into streams around the lower Kenai Peninsula at varying rates.  

“That’s unexpected and unanticipated, and that’s something that’s not being dealt with in the RPT or the regional planning team,” he said. “That’s something the Board of Fisheries should definitely take a look at.”

Gease also cites a growing body of scientific research indicating that pink salmon may be out-competing other salmon species as a reason to prevent the Solomon Gulch Hatchery from releasing more fish.

Mike Wells is the Executive Director of the Valdez Fisheries Development Association. Wells said the association expects that it will be able to move forward with its plan after the Board of Fisheries’ meeting on July 17.  

“We have an approved permit and we’re hopeful that once the board takes this up, that they will find, as they have in previous evaluations, that an emergency does not exist,” he said.

Prior to this year, the hatchery association was permitted to collect 250 million pink salmon eggs at the Solomon Gulch Hatchery. If the board of fish denies the latest emergency petition, the hatchery will be allowed to collect an additional 20 million pink salmon eggs, beginning in July.