The Alaska Board of Fisheries re-established a committee on hatchery operations Friday at its meeting in Anchorage. The board took up the issue after an emergency petition was filed in December calling for a committee to look into issues of straying hatchery fish and the impact on wild stocks. After receiving several public comments in favor of the move, the board agreed to provide an open forum on hatchery issues every year at its annual work session in October and at its statewide meeting in March.
Southern Kenai Peninsula resident and vocal hatchery critic Nancy Hillstrand submitted her petition to the board at its Sitka meeting in December. The board picked up the issue at its meeting Friday.
Hillstrand recapped several of her concerns during her testimony such as straying and hatchery operations harvesting too many fish during cost recovery. She also asked to board to re-establish the committee as a way to prioritize wild stocks over hatchery operations.
“The purpose of the institutionalized Board of Fish hatchery committee can bring all these issues to the table for an open process for a statewide perspective,” Hillstrand said. “Because this is not just in lower Cook Inlet and it’s just not in Prince William Sound.”
A few testified in favor of reestablishing the committee in person. Most written comments were in support of the committee and listed concerns similar to Hillstrand’s.
Former board member Dan Coffey sat on the board when it first formed a hatchery committee in 1997. Coffey testified on the history of the committee.
“I don’t intend to go into all the details, but what I’m asking is that this board reestablish the committee,” Coffey told board members.
That committee examined several hatchery related concerns and the board’s legal abilities to regulate them.
It reported back to the board in 1999. The report said that some hatchery operations harvested “inappropriately high” amounts of fish during cost recovery and did not benefit local communities while others were a benefit to the public. It also said that hatcheries impacted fish markets.
The report gave the board several possible actions it could have taken, but ultimately suggested ongoing reports and public input.
A protocol between the board and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game was signed in 2002 reaffirming that the board should continue providing a way for the public to comment on hatcheries.
Coffey asked the board to follow that protocol.
“Following the provisions of the joint protocol so that these issues, like Ms. Hillstrand brought up with regard to Homer and all the other things identified in four years worth of work by your predecessors on this board, that that gets a looksee 16 years after the protocol was adopted,” Coffey added.
Board Chairman John Jensen suggested the board dedicate an additional day to hatchery issues at its annual work session in October and at its annual statewide meeting in March every year, which he said would follow the 2002 protocol.
“I thought that would keep the process completely open, wouldn’t have to worry about having a standalone board hatchery committee and everybody would be privy to the information that came out,” Jensen said.
Board members agreed to holding public sessions, and there was no opposition to the move.
There were a few public comments against forming the committee. Some felt that Fish and Game should handle hatcheries rather than the board, and the Prince William Sound Aquaculture Association also spoke out against the committee.
It asked the board to wait until ongoing research by Fish and Game on interactions between wild and hatchery fish is completed.
The study is examining hatchery pink salmon in Prince William Sound and chums in Southeast Alaska. Fish and Game plans to finish sampling Prince William Sound Pinks this summer and Southeast chums in 2023. It could be several more years before the results are released.
The board will begin its public sessions with statewide look at hatcheries this October, and it will focus on individual regions at its meetings going forward.