Hungry mouths

hatchey fish

A swarming school of hatchery fish ready to eat their way across the sea/Alaska Department of Fish and Game photo

Fearful that Cook Inlet is increasingly coming under the influence of the big, pink-salmon ranch that is Alaska’s Prince William Sound, nine outdoor groups have banded together to ask the Alaska Board of Fisheries to put the brakes on a plan to expand a Valdez hatchery.

The hatchery not far from the oil terminal for the TransAlaska Pipeline System is part of one of North America’s most successful salmon grow operations. Since the late 1970s, hatcheries have reshaped the ecosystem of the Sound from one that produced an average 3.3 million pinks  per year to one that now pumps out more than 30 million salmon in an average year. 

“With PWS hatcheries providing a solid supply of pink salmon, processing companies with operations around the state have partnered with companies around the world to create new products,” McDowell Group noted in a 2010 report prepared for the Prince William Sound Aquaculture Association. “Pink salmon is now a nutritious ingredient in a wide range of food products, compared to 10 years ago.

“Some of these products are made in Alaska, but most are produced at secondary processing plants in other parts of the world or the lower-48.”

The export of jobs attracted little attention in the state, but the ever-increasing volume of pinks swarming out of the Sound and into the Gulf of Alaska began to draw notice after fisheries biologists warned that hatchery fish could be displacing and replacing wild Alaska salmon.

Three years ago, biologists in the Lower 48 and Canada produced the first of a series of ominous studies suggesting wild sockeye and other salmon were suffering at the expense of hatchery pinks. Unable to compete effectively with artificially boosted populations of pink salmon, sockeye from Southeast Alaska south to Oregon were getting smaller in size and less numerous, concluded researchers Greg Ruggerone from Natural Resource Consultants in Seattle and Brendon Connors, a professor at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada.

With Cook Inlet sockeye salmon stocks also trending downward, some Alaska fishermen began to wonder if food competition with pink salmon fry swarming north from the Sound into the great mixing zone off the mouth of the Inlet could be a problem.

Meanwhile, returning adult hatchery pinks getting lost on their way back to Sound hatcheries caught the attention of many more as those fish began to turn up in odd places.

Here a humpie; there a humpie

Commonly known a “humpback salmon,” or simply “humpies”  for the oversize humps that form that on the backs of spawning males, hatchery pinks spread across Lower Cook Inlet like an invasive species last summer.

“…In some streams, up to 70 percent (of the fish) were releases from Prince William Sound hatcheries. Prince William Sound hatchery-marked fish were present in every LowerCook Inlet stream sampled.,” said the petition for an emergency hearing by the Board filed Thursday by the Kenai River Sportfishing Association. “In Fritz Creek, 70 percent of the 96-fish sampled were from Prince William Sound hatcheries. In Beluga Slough, 56 percent of the 288-fish sampled were from Prince William Sound.”

The Soldotna-based KRSA was joined on the petition application by the Alaska Outdoor Council, the state’s largest outdoor organization; the Alaska Sportfishing Association; the Chitina Dipnetters Association; the Fairbanks Fish and Game Advisory Committee; the Kenai River Professional Guide Association; the Southcentral Alaska Dipnetters Association; the Tsui River Coalition and the Alaska Chapter of Safari Club International.

Noticeably absent were Cook Inlet commercial fishing interests with the most to lose if there is any validity to the idea that Sound pinks are playing a role in downsizing Inlet sockeye runs. Setnetter Todd Smith, a former member of the board of the Kenai Peninsula Fishermen’s Association, has been adamant in his belief that hatcheries backed by commercial fishing interests in the Sound couldn’t be harming Inlet salmon returns.

He has suggested that scientific evidence indicating otherwise is “fake news,” and argued the theory that hatchery pinks are overwhelming other species of wild salmon in parts of Alaska isn’t worth discussion until there is “definitive proof.”

The experts tend to take a different view.

“Recent analysis of hatchery programs from around the Pacific have found limited evidence of a large enhancement effect and in many cases identified concerns about negative impacts on wild populations,” Ricardo O. Amoroso from the University of Washington and co-authors wrote in a study published in the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences last year.  

 “Based on our analysis of wild pink salmon productivity in Alaska, we conclude that the release of hatchery pink salmon has likely reduced productivity of the wild populations that interact substantially with hatchery salmon,” they said. “While wild stocks in the South (Alaska) Peninsula and Southeast Alaska regions experienced dramatic increases in maximum sustained yield, approximately 200 percent — apparently as a result of increased carrying capacity — no such increases were observed in PWS or Kodiak. This pattern suggests that natural carrying capacity may have also increased in PWS and Kodiak, but is utilized by hatchery fish and thus no change is apparent for the wild stocks, essentially the pattern predicted by the replacement hypothesis.”

The study also warned the straying of hatchery fish and the consequences to both productivity and genetics of those fish competing with wild fish on the spawning grounds warranted a lot more study.

The Kenai petition to the Board of Fisheries pivots off that observation to suggest a state cap on hatchery production is needed until more is known.blurb1

Do no harm

The petition argues the Board has a legal obligation to restrain hatchery production if there is any possibility hatchery fish will compromise the production of wild fish.

“The state of Alaska law mandates that hatcheries shall operate without adversely
affecting natural stocks of fish – 5 AAC 39.222,” the petition says. “Policy for management of sustainable salmon fisheries. (c) (1) (D) effects and interactions of introduced or enhanced salmon stocks on wild salmon stocks should be assessed; wild salmon stocks and fisheries on those stocks should be protected from adverse impacts from artificial propagation and enhancement efforts.”

Alaska banned fish farming decades ago. It did not, however, ban hatcheries. It decided the thing to do was to let private, non-profit businesses – most of them run by commercial fishing interests – incubate eggs, grow little fish, and then dump them in the ocean by the hundreds of million with the hope lots of big fish would come back.

Statewide, Alaska is now dumping about a billion hungry, little salmon in the ocean each year. The specifics of what they do to the nearshore marine food chain are unclear.

The state has never studied the interactions of pink salmon fry from the Sound riding north on the Alaska Coastal Current to mix with sockeye, coho, Chinook and other fry emerging from the Inlet to join them in the ecologically rich, northeast corner of the Gulf of Alaska.

But as far back as 1996, Ken Tarbox, a respected and now-retired commercial fisheries biologist for the Alaska Department of  Fish and Game on the Kenai Peninsula was warning “hatcheries [in Prince William Sound are a major contributor to wild stock loss.”

Biologist Bill Smoker, an advocate for hatcheries, countered that there wasn’t enough evidence on which to base such a conclusion. Some scientists argue that is still true.

As is often the case, the science is not black and white. The Kenai sport group argues that is exactly the reason the Board should stay a plan to increase production by another 20 million eggs at a hatchery run by the Valdez Fisheries Development Association.

The egg take is small compared to what is already underway in the Sound.

Five private, nonprofit hatcheries take about 750 million eggs per year and release almost 650 million fry. An increase of two and a half percent in the egg take is tiny, but the sport fishing and outdoor organizations say it is time to set a precedent for better state oversight of private hatchery operations.

The increased egg take was approved by a Regional Planning Team organized by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, but the team is split equally between Fish and Game employees and private, nonprofit hatchery employees.

The sport fish groups think the team leaned too heavily toward hatchery interests.

“…Release of additional hatchery-produced pink salmon fry into the marine
waters of PWS without a doubt threatens the biological integrity of wild stocks of pink salmon in Lower Cook Inlet, potentially adds to an already critical ocean-rearing situation and likely alters fishing patterns in the inlet in a manner that affects the traditional allocation of the salmon resource without consultation with the Alaska Board of Fisheries,” the Kenai sport fishing group said in a printed statement.

The board is to meet Monday, May 17 be teleconference.

Correction: An early version of this story said Todd Smith was a member of the Kenai Peninsula Fishermen’s Association. Smith said he is no longer a member of the organization.






67 replies »

  1. Board meeting is Monday the 14th. was not noted in article which Monday.

    • The winners? Pink salmon. “Pinks are interesting because they’re the smallest and shortest-lived of the salmon species,” Ruggerone told me recently in his office near Fishermen’s Terminal in Seattle, home port for much of America’s North Pacific commercial fishing fleet. “And yet they’re the dominant competitor in the ocean, and the most abundant Pacific salmon species.”

    • A big problem, if what these guys say is true, is if any one nation stops their releasing of these pinks what’s to stop another nation just upping theirs?
      This will need a diplomatic worldwide solution that will no doubt take a lot of time.

  2. What is the problem here? Salmon stray, period! As long as any stream or river, is like the one they migrated out of, ie: (close to the same mineral content), they do not actually care where they end up spawning.
    As for hatchery fish from PWS actually causing a decline in sockeye population, headed to CI, I do not believe it for a moment. No actual science there!
    Guess what? The fresh water mineral content, draining into CI is very close to the water melting into PWS. Really close to the same snow pack, as they share the Kenai Mountain range, which touches the Chugach Mountain range to the North. Same snow, same fresh water.
    Only difference is the toxicity of air pollution, which is emitted from the Anchorage bowl, and ends up causing the pollution particles, that drop onto the snow pack, then hence into the water.
    Over 2/3 of the human population of Alaska, lives in close proximity close to this bowl ie:, Kenai, Eagle River, Wasilla and Palmer.
    I stayed on the Hillside area (upper crust of Anchorage residents) for a couple weeks, one winter. Beautiful and scenic view, great sunsets, though a horrible toxic air, rising up from the bowl. Trucks and cars running all the time, and winter cold inversion.
    The end issue is? Humans usually end up destroying everything in our path. Why do brown bears leave, when we move into their habitat? They do not like our smell.
    The author/blogger here, shot a sow brownie in the head (and it was dead) with his 45 caliber hand gun, because he startled her (she had cubs), while out adventuring in the AK wilderness. Wow! Human interaction, we mess it all up. So, get over the hatchery pink salmon thing. Very small blip on our earth’s life span. Right now it is helping the Alaskan economy. The municipalities all around the sound (Cordova, Valdez, Whittier, Seward, Homer and even Anchorage) benefit hugely from the PWS hatchery production.
    Remember, it was FRED (fisheries rehabilitation and enhancement division) which was part of the ADF&G, that started the Main Bay & Cannery Creek hatcheries in PWS. When the state got out of the hatchery business, they’ve leased all of the salmon hatcheries to PNPs.
    So, get a grip, quit whining and go fishing.
    Whittier, Seward, Cordova and Valdez need PWS & VFDA hatchery fish, so the subsistence, sports, personal use and commercial user groups can get their share, of fish. Which in turn benefits almost every Alaskan resident, to some degree, in all of South Central.
    My suggestion, Get on board, this ride is moving on through!

    • On another note: instead of PWS hatchery pink salmon to discuss, why not talk about the indiscriminate killing of sow brown bears, in South Central AK, to me, it is sickening! The Alaskan human males, typically strap on a huge caliber hand gun, and go into the wilds of the Kenai peninsula, every spring, summer and fall, and guess what? They encounter a sow with cubs, who reacts in defense of her family and charges the human. In a few highly publicized articles, the human is mauled, clawed, and partially eaten, though in most cases lives to tell the tale.
      Everyone congrats the survivor on his skills, and puts the blame on the wild bear. Most of the time, the bear is shot dead, and the human lives. Kenai Peninsula:
      guess what? That is where bears live, and in fact, we are the invaders. We disturb and ruin their natural habitat. We leave garbage cans out, bears become used to human food, Fish & Wildlife comes out and kills the bear, because it has become a nuisance animal. What a load of bull!
      The Alaskan sportsman, with their Cabela’s camo gear, guns & bear spray are a force to be reckoned with. In my view, they are only another predator, on the long list of species, that are dying off.
      Recently, the author/blogger ranted about the pseudo Alaskans, who whine and cry about Alaska. He stated that they should all leave the 49th state. Not his business, to say who can stay or go! It is still a free country, Craig.
      Reason why we allow the indiscriminate killing of brown bears? All we have to say, is that we feared for our life. What chance does the bear have? Not much.
      The only thing Alaska can hope for, is that the price of ANSC goes past $90 per barrel. Everything else is meaningless!

      • Last comment:
        Craig, was it a .44 or .45 you had? Whatever, you had, I remember you basically shot the jaw off the sow, besides putting another couple slugs in her head. Good job! Another survival story in our great Alaskan outdoors history.
        In hindsight, I myself would have reacted, like you did. You feared for your life, and then defended yourself. Basic human survival instinct kicks in.
        End of story, except not, because we now worry about too many pink salmon, coming out of PWS, while we indiscriminately kill off all the mammals in our Alaskan wilderness.
        How is that working for you now?
        Political and sport outdoors pundits alike make hay, while the majority of Alaskans work their shift and go home.
        At least we have an election coming up this fall. Something else to cry and moan about.
        Question: What is the difference between an Alaskan pundit and a puppy?
        Answer: The puppy quits whining after 6 weeks!

      • James Mykland, after ranting and raving whining and crying on and on you are going to close your comments with a post regarding Craig Medred ranting and whining? Hahahha

    • I agree James that salmon stray, period. The issue here, along with straying, is with the large numbers of pinks (especially) being dumped into an ocean that is having problems.
      I no longer am dependent on fishing and so don’t have that dog in this hunt but I do fish for king salmon that are experiencing enormous problems that very well could be due to these “hungry mouths” IMO.
      So with that said, I’m on board with insisting that these hatcheries be scrutinized even more on the numbers of fry they are releasing and not allow for any increased releases until the issue is determined to be no problem. Some years ago the DIPAC decided to stop with their pink salmon program but they’ve chosen to release pretty large numbers of chum instead-I’m not privy to all that went into that decision but both chum and pink do a lot of straying. It is these two species that seem to be the problem (straying) but the pinks seem to be the problem (hungry mouths).
      Just my opinion here.

    • James,
      Your argument is not even close to applicable here.
      Defense of human life in shooting a bear has nothing to do with commercial hatcheries switching Alaska to essentially a “mono”culture of salmon.
      Where there was once 5 species of salmon spawning in Valley streams, we now have a congestion of dead humpys and closures for other species each summer.
      This is an “endangerment” of king salmon in SC and no one is comming up with any solutions (like a 4 day on , 3 day off schedule for comm nets in the Cook).
      If you think adding 1 billion fish a year to our ocean ecosystem makes no difference, then you must have a commercial fishing permit as well….if you add up Canada, Russia, Japan and Washington, Oregon…we have over 5 Billion hatchery fish added to the Pacific Ocean each year….the “Monsanto” mono culture of da Ocean.

    • James,
      If you are unhappy with the over harvesting of brown bears in many areas, I suggest you lobby the fish and game board to STOP allowing commercial guides to kill brown bears over bait stations with their clients who sometimes pay as much as $20 thousand a hunt.
      Allowing bait stations that are filled with dog food and greese to be placed out in the woods does a lot more to harm the health of the brown bear population then say a hiker with a pistol on their chest.

      • Steve, it is my opinion that these bait stations that allow brown bears to be harvested are only in areas where too many grizzlies are already present. And this is only fairly recent as it used to be that only black bears could be taken over bait. Further, my guess is that once these surplus grizzlies are removed the bait thing will revert back to the old situation-this will be done by BOG.

        In other words, its been determined that brown bear populations are too high in those areas and need to be reduced.

      • Sure Bill,
        And AK Fish &Game “determined” that so their guide buddies can go hunting with their “geriatric” clients and put them next to a bait station right by the lodge.

        After Roy Roth died a few years ago, we are still finding his 55 gallon drums chained to trees on the Yentna and Skwentna Rivers (all over the place)….like he had 100 or so in the bush.
        Then a new guide moves in and leaves the bait stations “dirty” each fall.
        Not to get on a side debate, but to answer James statement…
        “Bait Stations” are the problem with healthy bear populations…not self defense shooters.
        Just like “Aerial Spotting” should not be allowed by guides during moose season, but it is!
        The killing fields of Alaska!

      • Steve, you just ramble on about your thinking on bears, moose-try to stay on point.
        Bait stations have been around for a long time but only recently have they been used to take brown bears (and those are only in certain designated areas). Has nothing to do with F&G’s guide buddies and also nothing to do with whether/not the bait stations are cleaned up afterwards.
        As soon as you can point out where brown bears are allowed in areas where these bears are having issues or unhealthy populations of same then you might get some to listen to your BS.

      • Bill,
        If you do not think a healthy brown bear population is connected to a healthy salmon population, then you are a bigger fool than I once thought.
        Look at Katmai NP with over 2,200 brown bears (Fish and Game would call this an “over populated area” if it was the Yentna Basin)
        Katmai NP has its HQ in King Salmon….
        One of the greatest natural salmon run areas in the world.
        So, as we switch to a mono culture of pink salmon that may never reach the bears “headwaters” living location in SC, we force bears to find other food sources (Like BABY MOOSE).
        So, to further decimate a brown bear population that is struggling to find food only further degrades the health of the ecosystem.
        Bait Stations allow a big increase in brown bear kills in an area.
        Just like I have no King Salmon in June to eat, so too are the grizzly looking for protein.
        The spotting of large bull moose by airplanes in fall season for guided party’s hunts, further weakens the Gene pool and “Web of Life” in an area that is now becoming sterile from commercial over-harvesting and non native hatchery fish introduce to the area. The “over-harvesting” begins with the nets in the Cook and travels up river with bait stations and super cub spotters.
        Brave new world.
        All connected with their “Hungry Mouths”…and outside monetary interests.

      • Go ahead and clutter up a debate about bait stations and grizzly bears with a lot of other bullchit about salmon and moose and gillnets.
        Nobody gives a chit IMO about what you speak. Stay on point and you might get a following IMO.

    • James: just a couple errors to correct here:
      1.) the brown bears don’t leave because people stink. Anchorage has a pretty healthy population pf them. and judging by the continuation of that, the existing DLP kill would appear to be compensatory not additive.
      2.) i wasn’t out “adventuring.” i was moose hunting.
      3.) i didn’t exactly startle anything. i ran into a couple yearling cubs that wanted to investigate me. i tried to sneak off. didn’t work. they followed. then mom got involved.
      4.) PWS hatchery pinks are not benefiting subsistence, sport, personal use and all commercial groups, and may in fact be hurting them. the E.J. Ward/M.Atkinson study in 2017 found a statistical correlation between returning pinks and sockeye that led them to conclude there was a “negative impact of adult hatchery pink salmon on on wild sockeye salmon productivity.” there is not much subsistence, personal use or sport interest in pinks. pinks may, however, be significantly benefiting some PWS business interests and to the extent they’re doing that without hurting businesses elsewhere, it’s a great thing.

    • So tell us how you will make money off of this? You blow off the argument yet I bet you want to cash in

  3. If you’ve spent any time in the Sound you have seen humpies trying to swim up any trickle of water falling into the salt. Natural humpies don’t spawn in trickles of water falling over cliffs into the salt, these are hatchery fish that have strayed looking to spawn in any fresh water they can find. They school up near any creek and will completely fill it up.

    • I can’t say that what you say isn’t happening now but the oil spill killed a lot of the spawners you speak of that were totally wild fish. As I understood it those fish came back but due to the straying thing its possible they’ve been displaced by hatchery fish. You statement about “natural humpies don’t spawn etc. is bullshit as they clearly did prior to the 89 spill. Look it up!

      • Bill: there is quite a bit of info that indicates that hatchery fish that are released away from where they were born do not imprint with their release environment nearly as much as wild stocks and are more likely to stray. You are correct in saying that wild stocks stray sometimes ( trying to run up non spawning trickles). But not at near the same rate as hatchery fish which often spawn far away from their natal rivers. Makes one wonder if this mixed hatchery / wild stock spawning might result in a weaker strain over time.

      • Bill,

        I’m guessing you misread what I wrote. Salmon can’t spawn in salt water, look it up. Humpies can spawn in brackish water, but that isn’t what I described at all.

        I fished PWS shortly after the spill, natural humpies weren’t wiped out. Oil floats and does not travel up stream, salmon don’t breath air and the spill didn’t affect them the way you say. Most of the fish we caught were natural fish, most of the hatchery fish returned to where they were released and we couldn’t fish near the pens because those areas were closed for cost recovery and to catch fish for eggs, I wished we could have because we could have caught 10-20 times as many fish with each set. There wasn’t dead floaters everywhere you went like there is now and humpies didn’t try to spawn in every drop of fresh water. There are too many humpies in the Sound for the Sound to support, that is why they are spilling out into the CI and probably other places as well.

      • Steve-O, there were large numbers of wild humpies that spawned in brackish water in the Sound that were wiped out in the oil spill. These tended to be in saltwater that had enough fresh water from exactly as you describe (fresh water that dropped off cliffs into saltwater). As I understand it many of those wild runs bounced back but they may indeed be compromised by hatchery fish that have strayed.
        The issue here is one that is serious and needs serious discussion, without bullchit like what you posted. What I’ve called you on is that natural humpies did indeed spawn in those trickles of water so perhaps I’ve misread what you wrote because what you wrote was bullchit.
        Which is it?

      • Bill,

        Thanks for confirming that you misread what I wrote. Just to clarify for you, I was talking about hatchery salmon trying to spawn in trickles of water falling off of cliffs into salt water, I was not talking about brackish water, say like a slough.

        Calling things bullshit because you don’t understand them doesn’t help further the conversation or help you to understand what the conversation is about, it only serves to show your ignorance.

      • Steve-O if you read my comment then you would have seen: “These tended to be in saltwater that had enough fresh water from exactly as you describe (fresh water that dropped off cliffs into saltwater).”
        As you can see that I was not talking about brackish water like a slough, either.
        And by the way these spawning situations also take place in SE, in particular in Seymour Canal, that I observed in the 70s before any hatchery pinks could have possibly been straying.

      • Bill,

        I wasn’t talking about intertidal or brackish water, I know that is what you are talking about but that is not what I was talking about. Have you been in the Sound recently? There are hatchery salmon trying to spawn in SALT WATER that has small trickles of FRESH WATER falling in to it over cliffs. Salmon cannot spawn in SALT WATER.

      • Well Steve-O if they cannot spawn there what is the problem??
        Intertidal is intertidal IMO, and that trickle you speak of may/may not result in pinks coming back there. If they don’t return then there is no problem IMO.
        I don’t think it’s for you or I to determine where a salmon should stray, especially a wild salmon-and how do you know those are hatchery salmon? Hold a wet finger to the wind?

      • Bill,

        Try to follow me on this, salmon cannot successfully spawn in salt water therefore they cannot return to spawn in salt water. There are thousands of humpies across the Sound trying to spawn in salt water. Natural salmon are not straying to the point that there are thousands across the Sound trying to spawn in salt water. There are however millions of hatchery fish that have been shown to be straying all over in and out of the Sound. I haven’t done a genetic test on all the humpies that are trying to spawn in salt water so I can’t definitively say that they are all hatchery fish…but chances are the vast majority are.

      • Bill,

        The point is, if you’ve spent any time in the Sound you have seen humpies trying to swim up any trickle of water falling into the salt. Natural humpies don’t spawn in trickles of water falling over cliffs into the salt, these are hatchery fish that have strayed looking to spawn in any fresh water they can find. They school up near any creek and will completely fill it up.

      • I guess it comes down to what is a trickle of water and my point is that I’ve seen humpies (wild) spawning in small creeks that come from waterfalls in SE that many would refer to as just a trickle.
        You seem to think that hatchery humpies are different from wild but don’t have anything to back it up IMO. And I spent 25 years gillnetting in the Sound. What I’ve observed is that salmon will stray especially if water is close in mineral content to their own stream. That said, I also know of some Main Bay reds (several thousand) that were caught in Icy Straights by seine fleet a couple of years ago-what were they doing way into Icy Straights? Pretty hard to think they were just meandering on their way to Main Bay IMO but they are hatchery fish and perhaps were just following some other fish.
        Anyway, Steve-O if they are not successful then they would disappear, but you are saying they are prolific and are looking for any fresh water they can find. I don’t buy that but why would they only be looking for fresh water in the Sound? My guess is just to piss you off! That was a joke, by the way.

      • Bill,

        There are so many hatchery fish that they can’t all be caught. They do what comes natural to them which is to find fresh water and spawn. I’ve seen places where a literal trickle of water, not a creek, not even a small creek, not an intertidal area, not a slough, just somewhere that rain water was trickling over a cliff and humpies were gathered below trying to spawn. When all the creeks are full and these humpies natural drive takes over they try to find any fresh water they can to spawn in. There are too many hatchery humpies, so many that all of the creeks and even trickles of fresh water in the Sound are not enough for them they are spilling out of the Sound into surrounding areas. There are floating zombie fish all over the Sound, these are excess and uncaught hatchery fish. If you haven’t been there in awhile and haven’t seen it firsthand you would be amazed by it.

      • Steve-O I just don’t buy they can’t be caught-and not all years are there huge Sound runs, either. They are caught in terminal harvest areas by the millions and most seiners are put on limits due to processor capacity, but they can be all caught (as long as they are in that terminal area).
        For some reason this increased straying is occurring (if what you say is correct) and if they are moving that far from their origin they won’t be caught as nobody in the seine fleet is looking for small runs when they are all in those terminal harvest areas where they fill their hold in one set.
        This is something for BOF to deal with IMO. I’ve been gone for 9 years now. I know there have been a few very large pink harvest years and perhaps in those years significant numbers strayed and are becoming successful spawners so they continue to occur in other years. If they were not successful they would just disappear-something you seem to think is not happening.

      • Bill,

        Please do me a favor and not try and put words into my mouth. You keep misreading what I write.
        Hatchery fish are released every year, they don’t need to reproduce since the hatchery does that for them. You seem confused as to whether all the hatchery salmon are caught and if they stray…they can’t all be caught and they do stray. Once again, salmon cannot successfully spawn in salt water. Have a good day.

    • Steve-O-My point was that the only way those fish would continue to stray the way you say is if they were successfully spawning in those trickles and intertidal zones. If what you say is correct then why did these things only occur after I left the sound? I’m thinking you are dreaming!
      Sure the hatcheries continue to pump out fry but why would the suddenly just go to those intertidal zones after I left the sound when those hatcheries have been releasing them for 35 plus years? You can’t explain that because it doesn’t make common sense without somehow those fish becoming successful spawners in those intertidal zones. And if that’s the case those fish would experience ups and downs and you insist that is not the case.
      You are making this shit up, plain and simple. Otherwise nothing of what you say makes any sense.

      • Bill,

        You are the only one making shit up. By your own account you haven’t been to the Sound in damn near a decade. You say the only way something can happen is if you can think of it, why did straying only happen only after you left…it didn’t, it’s been happening all along it’s just the fact that hatcheries are dumping more and more fish every year that is causing the problem to explode. I have already provided an alternative to your narrow sightedness, that there are tens if not hundreds of millions of hatchery salmon being added to the Sound every year, year after year…that is a fact. The intertidal spawning of hatchery fish has NOTHING to do with what I’ve been saying, why you think it does is beyond me. Why you didn’t notice the problem while you were there damn near a decade ago probably has to do with the fact that people often don’t see what’s in front of their face when monetary considerations are taken into account, that and it’s clear that you overlook simple things like the fact I have repeatedly said what I am saying has nothing to do with intertidal spawning and yet you keep saying that I am talking about intertidal spawning. Bill, get out from behind your keyboard, go out to PWS, take a look around in the middle or late part of summer then come back when you have an informed opinion from this decade.

        And stop calling opinions you disagree with shit, it makes you look like an idiot and I’m sure you aren’t an idiot.

      • Steve-O, you are full of shit!
        Those hatchery humpies have been going into the Sound for 35 years from 4 exclusive pink hatcheries. And you are the one that brought up the intertidal spawning (everywhere there is a trickle of fresh water) and that these are all hatchery fish. Give us a break. There have been wild fish intertidal spawning before there were hatcheries and I’m sure they continue to this day (and pretty hard to tell by looking what is what).
        I really have no idea of what you are talking about because you just make up shit. These humpies are all over the Sound spawning wherever there is a trickle of fresh water according to you (those by definition are intertidal spawning pinks) and now you say this has nothing to do with what it is you are saying.
        What are you saying???
        I get it that there are large numbers of pinks put into the Sound every year and that they are straying. So what? You would like to see these numbers cut back?? You are going to have to throw us a large bone here to be able to show how those pinks are harming the system. Is it harmful after they return and try to spawn in tiny trickles of water?? Or is it harmful while they are feeding in open ocean? Well if that’s the issue and we decide to cut back on our pinks by say a billion fry, what’s to limit another country from taking up that slack? Do you really think something like that could be done on a whim (your whim, by the way).
        I have some issues about these pinks possibly out eating our king salmon but I don’t know that’s the case. Do you?
        I was involved with PWSAC when they first started up and their first returns were pinks with chums right after. Straying clearly occurred from the get go but that straying tended to be streams close to the hatcheries. Chums were the most visible, to me, but as you say perhaps that was because chums are a gillnet fish whereby pinks are not.
        But I can tell you that your opinion that suddenly those hatchery pinks are all attempting intertidal spawning (without successful spawning previously) every year now when they didn’t do anything of the kind 20-25 years ago doesn’t pass the smell test. What you are suggesting is that suddenly those pinks (hatchery) have evolved into something new and I don’t buy that crap. Maybe you can convince some of the other low-brows on here but not this one. Perhaps these are a new species (how about that)??

      • Bill,

        What I wrote is right up there ^ in black and white. You sure read a lot that isn’t there. You brought up intertidal spawning, not me. I simply pointed out my first hand observation on an area you haven’t been to in almost a decade. Salmon cannot successfully spawn in salt water, you are the only one here suggesting they can. Now you think hatchery humpies have somehow evolved to where they can now spawn in salt water or that there is a new species of salmon??? With all do respect, lay off the crack Bill.

  4. In case you are interested James, I ran my boat from Juneau to Cordova about 10 Springs in a row to catch the opener on the Flats. What was quite amazing, to me, were the huge flocks of Common Murres and Loons (several varieties) that were feeding together all the way North to Cape St. Elias. Now a Loon and a Murre have incredibly different bills but they were still pretty clearly feeding on either the same fishes, krill or something else in those outside waters.
    Nothing like that on the way back in early August, however. And those Loons could hardly get off the water and usually dove as I came towards them-I suspect they were putting on weight getting ready for nesting.

  5. So say you have 10 big guppies in a fish bowl. And you feed them a spoonful of fish food every day. Then you decide to add 100 small guppies into the fish bowl every year. But you don’t change how much you feed them. Soon the big guppies die from starvation and the little guppies fight for the food and remain little guppies.

    Now say you want the guppies to get big again. What do you do? Common sense people would say: “Increase the amount of fish food. Or decrease the amount of fish being put into the fish bowl”.

    But it seems some Alaskan biologists and fish scientists would not subscribe to these actions. Their solution would be: “Keep adding more fish. And do more studies and collect more data.”

    Fish bowl. PWS and the Gulf of Alaska. In the big picture, they are both the same thing. Fixing an ecological imbalance of too many fish being forced into a fishbowl is easy. Well, it is easy for some people. But not all.

  6. We still have a lot to learn about the extent of damage that overloading the PWS ecosystem with hatchery pinks has caused. I’d wager that one day a lightbulb will go off in the head of some scientist/biologist and they will say: “That massive murre die-off in 2015/2016 must have been caused by pinks eating all the fish that murres feed on.” The murre die-off was conjectured to be due to the eco-boogeyman du jour – climate warming, driving the feed fish to deeper and colder waters. But no one really knows. Especially scientists and biologists, that are often detached from common sense. The reason could be very simple. Like maybe the birds died because something else ate all their food. Like maybe because of something man put in the ocean. Like a billion invasive fish.

    • Nice try there James, but common Murres have been spotted diving 300 ft after sand lances so pretty hard to suspect that in one year pinks (no matter how many) somehow caused the murre die-off. Just speculative BS.

      • Right Bill, like that is all murres eat. Maybe talk to someone that knows a little about murres. Oh sorry, that would take a tiny bit of effort on your part. Easier to just spout BS as if it is the truth. Murres eat capelin. Pinks eat capelin. Competition for the same food source. Get it? Maybe pull your head out of the sand.

      • For Pete’s sake James, my post just pointed out your outrageous statement about all of a sudden, perhaps the Murre collapse one year may have been due to hatchery pink salmon that have been released for at least 35 years into the ocean. And the only reason I used sand lances is to show how incredibly resourceful these Murres are in their feeding (of course they feed on other fishes).
        And nothing I said says that those pinks don’t compete with a lot of fishes (and birds), just that it is extreme to suggest something as crazy as you did. Those Murres starved due to something catastrophic that occurred quite suddenly to their food source at a critical time-not a chance in a carload that those hatchery pinks (or any other pinks) caused that situation.

  7. I am not a scientist, but i do use common sense, thought it is rare in these situations. Do Alaskan fish managers have to wait until they see a adverse affect on wild stocks from hatchery stocks,before reducing hatchery output? The department seems to know the optimum carry capacity of inrivers for salmon, hens the reason the department wanted to reduce escapement goals in several river systems. I agree with this petition, Hatcheries/department should be in compliance with current laws and regulations.
    The first red flag i see to over production/release (adverse affect) of hatchery fish is, hatchery fish are showing up in river systems not intended for hatchery fish. This scues the escapement numbers in those systems. At the same time those fish are not harvested by the commercial fleet that it was intended for.
    This is time to be proactive and not reactive. The BOF should hold the hatcheries to the agreements and the law before increasing the release of hatchery fish until we know the optimum caring capacity of our waters.

  8. Todd: do you not believe that there are hatchery fish from PWS being harvested in UCI? How much evidence do you need to believe that dumping hundreds of millions ( really over a billion ) hatchery fish into Alaska waters has an adverse impact on wild stocks? Do you have an opinion of whether these hatchery fish compete for food with wild stocks? And finally, what exactly did you say to imply that Medred was “over blowing” the issue with “misleading” use of information? It seems that whenever there is an issue that might reduce the commercial
    harvest there is opposition from
    the commercial sector regardless of the reasons behind a reduction. This hatchery issue seems quite important and a conservative approach might be needed. IMO the default position would be to not increase the release until there is clear evidence that there will be no adverse impact. Is that your position? Or do you think the burden is on anyone opposing increasing the release to show clearly that there will be an adverse impact? I guess it often depends on whose ox is getting gored.

    • Alaskans First – I believe that PWS hatchery Pinks are straying, and I believe that dumping more hatchery Pinks into the Alaskan waters could have adverse impacts on wild stocks. I do not support increasing hatchery production in PWS. Craig Medred used decreased UCI commercial harvest as evidence that the hatchery competition issue is at play in Cook Inlet – without acknowledging the many other factors that contribute to decreased allocation and harvest for commercial fishermen in UCI. He could have easily used total return data to paint an accurate picture of Sockeye abundance in UCI, but that data doesn’t fit his narrative nearly as well. It’s a great example of how Craig twists facts to fit his stories – just like he did with my statements and views on this issue.

      • Todd,
        I understand your livelihood is tied into these commercial fisheries, just remember many others once found work guiding tourist & locals in rivers and streams.
        The current paradigm of Closures and increased humpy production sucks.
        Our streams in Willow have been filled with pink salmon the last few years.
        How many of these fish are hatchery?
        How many were miscounted for escapement for kings or silvers?
        We both know as soon as a new F&G biologist gets “tuned in” to the severity of this problem, a good old boy “shows them the door”.
        This is why our state is so lacking in “straying” data.
        Wash and Oregon have already concluded there is a major concern.
        The runs down there are over 80 percent hatchery stock.
        What is our current percent of hatchery fish in Cook Inlet and PWS??
        I would wager to believe it is high and growing exponentially every year.
        The new mono culture of hatchery salmon are susceptible to new disease patterns as well.
        “Pandora’s Box” in da Arctic.

      • Thank you for the reply. When you say you think hatchery fish are straying do you mean to say that they are in UCI. What impact,if any, might they have in UCI?
        And Todd, do you see any benefits accruing to ESSN fishers in the near future resulting from the CIAA’s Seward hatchery releases. I know that many commercial fishers have been paying a tax and the Assoc has been borrowing millions or getting millions in grant money. Yet it appears the released fry and return sockeye have little benefit to anyone other than Hatchery staff and Board members. I mean, cost recovery is great and often needed. But when cost recovery is the only commercial Harvest permitted what is the point if there is never to be a fishery for those who are taxed or loan money to the Assoc. Just asking your thoughts.

      • Steve, both you and AF have reasonable questions but why are you asking a commercial fisherman who doesn’t get his net anywhere near an UCI stream?? And even if he did how do you expect he would know the difference?
        Your questions are for Dept. of F & G. I suspect they know the answer.

      • Todd: just keep spinning. it’s what you do best. you should have been a propeller.
        you and i both know that the total numbers reflect the same thing the commercial catch numbers do; it’s just easier to pull the comm-catch numbers (and they’re more accurate going far back into time) because the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is so commcentric it compiles most of its data by comm harvest not total return.
        the agency also spends a lot of time and money trying to fine-tune comm harvests so it can squeeze every last comm fish out of the Inlet.
        meanwhile, it’s quite possible you’re losing fish by the hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, to poor survival at sea due to food competition. but go on blaming allocation, which has actually cost you little in terms of catch, because it’s such a nice bogeyman.
        and don’t look behind you. i think the ghost of Sam McDowell is reading over your shoulder.

      • Steve – while I do hold a limited entry permit and help fish my family’s site, my livelihood is tied to areas outside commercial fishing. I have zero skin in the PWS Humpy game and have no interest in seeing an increase in production.There are still a lot of people who find work as guides, and folks who’ve learned to diversify and treat their clients well have mostly been successful. There are a lot of hatchery fish in your local streams, thanks to the William Jack Hernandez sportfish hatchery – which I don’t believe has been mentioned yet. Alaskans First – I’d be happy to share my thoughts with you once we’re on a first name basis.

  9. Craig – While I did call you on using false and misleading data to represent this problem, I specifically said on your website “the issue and concern about hatchery competition is valid”. I never called this “fake news”, and never said the issue was not worthy of discussion until we had definitive proof. I did imply that you are overblowing the issue with the misleading use of data, and have no real interest in looking for definitive proof. I stand by that. Had you contacted me before using me in your story, you would have also learned that I am not a member of the Kenai Peninsula Fishermen’s Association. Your disregard for the truth is unfortunate.

    • Todd: and i never said you did. i said you suggested it was “fake news,” which is exactly what you did.
      as someone trained as a scientist more than a writer, i am always looking for definitive proof, too. as someone who has spent decades reading reams of research by others studying natural ecosystems in Alaska, i am also aware how rare definitive proof.
      things are almost never cut and dried. the proof, at best, shades much more one way than the other, but it is seldom definitive.
      that is the reason we have been debating so-called overescapement of Kenai River salmon for decades. it is a debate no one can win because the proof one way or another is not definitive. it is, at best, suggestive at the very maximum levels of escapement, which we’ve seldom seen.
      lastly, i’m going to take you on your word that you are not a member of the Kenai Peninsula Fishermen’s Association and correct the story, but you might want to have them remove your name from the list of people on their board of directors:
      as with most things i write, i did check before i wrote the story. i didn’t think to call you because the story didn’t get written until late at night, but i guess i could ring you up at midnight next time.
      i admit i am now curious why someone who was on the KPFA board would up and quit the whole organization. what happened?

      • Craig – I never suggested that the studies you linked were fake news: I stated that the theory was valid. I suggested that your story about the issue was fake because it was built on a false premise and with improper data. The deceptive way you presented this issue, and the defamatory way you dealt with someone who called you out on it is a great example of why you have zero credibility as a journalist, Mr. Scientist.

      • the data wasn’t improper and the premise wasn’t false.
        the premise was that nobody knows, but the evidence indicates there are reasons to believe PWS hatchery fish could be influencing wild salmon productivity in Cook Inlet. i haven’t had on scientist familiar with the issue disagree with the premise, let alone think it false.
        in fact, a couple contacted me suggest the issue needed much more attention than its getting.
        you don’t think it’s a problem. fine. there are others who share your view. that’s the way democracy works. i appreciate your opinion. that’s why i put it in the story. it was not defamatory. it was a reflection of the fact there are people who just aren’t buying the idea there could be density-dependent issues affecting productivity in this way.

      • Craig – you purposely misstated me and misrepresented my position. My previous comments left little room for misunderstanding: I believe the scientific reports – written by actual scientists – that allude to density dependent impacts between hatchery and wild stocks. Like you I took a science class or two, and like you I think there are issues with the current PWS Aquaculture model. That is completely separate from your half-baked practice of evaluating UCI commercial harvest and determining that, since current harvest is less than what it was during the most productive period for UCI Salmon ever recorded, it must be due to PWS Pink Salmon Aquaculture. Laughable that you concluded this with no consideration of the many other factors at play, and did not even consider total abundance vs. harvest. The fact that you cannot separate yourself, your theory, and your ideology from the scientific reports is unfortunate but amusing. Perhaps, had I taken a softer approach, this could have been a more productive discussion where I pointed out your error and you said “oh, that makes sense, maybe it’s not as bad as I’m making it seem”. I have my doubts of that, though, and regardless there is no excuse for your dishonest manipulation of the facts.

      • Todd: here we go again with your reading comprehension problems. it was never reported that the Cook Inlet sockeye decline “must be due to PWS Pink Salmon Aquaculture.” correlation is not causation, but it is cause for investigation.
        i am glad you now agree there was a more productive period; so we can end the silly argument about catch numbers versus total run numbers. escapements in Cook Inlet have long been established and the commercial fishery is prosecuted so as to try to harvest every last fish in excess of escapement.
        that makes the harvest a fair indicator of returns.
        my ideology happens to be the same as that of the scientists writing the scientific reports; ie. our fisheries should be managed intelligently using as much information as we can collect. in this case, what we know is that a whole lot of hungry little fish come sweeping north every year. the organic mass alone is big enough that if any business other than hatcheries decided to dump this mass into the waters of Alaska an EIS would probably be required.
        i have no theory as to what it means. some of the scientists do. they believe based on a lot of statistical work that we’ve reached “peak salmon” in the North Pacific under some very good ocean productivity conditions, and that if those conditions deteriorate and we continue to dump hatchery fish at the current rate, there could be major implications for wild fish.
        as a commercial fishermen in Cook Inlet, you should be concerned and want to do know more.
        that you’re not, baffles me. but then it probably shouldn’t. behavioral economics has been a hot topic for study in the past decade after the discovery people often DON’T act in their own best interest.
        you would seem to be a good example. you’re so wrapped up in some delusion that i have some theory and ideology somehow aimed at robbing you of a few of the fish you are owed as the holder of a limited entry permit (and thus taking money out of your pocket) that you refuse to consider the possibility that many fish might be disappearing from the allowable harvest because the little fish that go to sea aren’t making it back as big fish anymore.

      • OK, I volunteer. No promises though, more pressing considerations take priority! Here in the middle of Africa we have our own set of urgent issues.

        Bad grammar, bad spelling is ok, until it distorts the meaning of the message. That can only be corrected by the author, as in “Biologist Bill Smoker, a hatchery advocated, countered that there wasn’t enough evidence on which to base such a conclusion” – which hatchery did he advocate for?

      • all of them. thanks for that catch. fixed it.
        if you’re in Africa, i’m confident there is no shortage of issues.
        but ping me anytime you’re up late at night and see anything needing fixing here in the now sunny though not-so-warm (at least not yet) north.

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