A controversial plan to move part of a hatchery operation to the head of Tutka Bay near Homer is complete. Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association placed two net pens at the head of the bay on April 26.
The hatchery association is in the process of moving fish into the pens. Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association Executive Director Gary Fandrei said the pens will be removed once the 20 million pink salmon it plans to raise at the site can be released.
“Our anticipation is that near the end of May, maybe the first week of June, those fish will [have] reached a size where we can release them,” Fandrei explained. “It's dependent on how the fish grow and the weather conditions and tides and stuff like that.”
The association wants to move most of its Tutka Bay Lagoon operation to the head of the bay. It’s permitted to raise and release about 80 million pinks in a 10-pen complex at the new site, but Fandrei said Cook Inlet Aquaculture’s lagoon site was not able to supply enough young pinks this year.
“We have a permit that allowed us to put net pens and the fish through this year, and then we will have to renew the permit if we continue the program,” he said. “The board will review the process and the program. I am pretty sure that they will want to continue it, but that is up to them.”
Several area residents protested the move last year, raising ecological and logistical concerns about Cook Inlet Aquaculture’s operation moving further inside Kachemak Bay State Park.
If the hatchery association’s board decides to continue the program, Fandrei said renewing the permit should move along faster than the initial permitting process. The state Department of Natural Resources initially denied Cook Inlet Aquaculture’s permit application when it applied in 2013, but it acquired the permit after it appealed the decision. The permit was later rescinded and was approved again in early 2017.
“I know this is a controversial issue and we try to follow all of our permits and are working in that direction,” Fandrei said. “We're going to continue to do that and work with the regulatory agencies as appropriate.”
Fandrei said the board has already asked staff to explore the renewal process. The board will likely make its final decision on whether to continue to program this fall.