Eggs taken from wild stocks are grown and released as tiny fingerlings
Last year, 40 salmon that got their start in Alaska hatcheries returned home and were caught in commercial fisheries, valued at $163 million at the docks.
That added up to 25% of Alaska’s total salmon harvest and 23% of the value to fishermen.
That’s according to the 2022 salmon enhancement report by the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game.
There are 30 hatcheries producing salmon in Alaska, of which 26 are operated by private, nonprofits funded primarily from sales of a portion of the returns, called cost recovery. Eleven are state owned and operated at no cost to the state.
There also are two state-run sport fish hatcheries, one research hatchery operated by NOAA Fisheries , and one hatchery operated by the Metlakatla Indian tribe.
Southeast is home to most of Alaska’s salmon hatcheries, where 14 operate at northern and southern regions. Last year, 6.6 million hatchery salmon, mostly chums, were caught there worth $56 million, 47% of the value of the region’s salmon fishery.
About 63,000 sockeye salmon were caught as they returned home to Cook Inlet’s three hatcheries, valued at $630,000, or 4% to fishermen.
Kodiak has two salmon hatcheries that produce a mix of pinks, sockeyes and chums. In 2022 they accounted for a catch of over 3 million fish valued at $6 million, or 15% of Kodiak’s salmon value.
Statewide, Alaska’s hatcheries also provided 168,000 fish for sport, personal and subsistence users.
The salmon enhancement report says that Alaska hatcheries took just over 2 two billion salmon eggs from the wild stocks in 2022 and released 1.9 billion juvenile salmon.
William Jack Hernandez Sport Fish Hatchery, Anchorage Credit: Ray Troll
Big returns for all users at no cost to the state
Alaska’s hatchery program was developed in the early 1970s in response to historically low salmon runs.
Often lost in the picture is that they operate with no state dollars and the contribution the fish make to other users.
“In each region where there is an aquaculture association, commercial salmon permit holders have levied a salmon enhancement tax upon themselves from one to three percent. In addition, through statute we’re provided the opportunity to offer a licensing agreement on an annual basis on returning adult salmon to our projects which is a process we call cost recovery. That allows us to recoup our operating expenses,” said Tina Fairbanks, director of the Kodiak Regional Aquaculture Association.
She added: “These faculties produce salmon for the common property that include sport, subsistence personal use and commercial fisheries at no cost to the state of Alaska. The revenues generated through commercial harvest landing and fish taxes go back into the communities and state coffers and represent a great return on the state’s initial investment.”
When asked at Board of Fisheries meetings how many people depend on hatchery fish for their livelihood, over half typically stand up.